Landon Hale is a 23-year-old former resident of Ashland and recovering drug addict. His battle began with marijuana.

“Around the time that I was in high school, I had dabbled a little bit with marijuana here and there. I wasn’t doing anything harder or anything like that, just your typical high schooler stuff, I guess. And then afterwards after I was out of school and everything like that…

“I don’t know. It was just available, and I wasn’t really happy with myself, and how I felt about myself. And it provided an escape that I wasn’t finding elsewhere,” Hale said.

Arrest rates for marijuana have risen in Ashland. A data analysis of records kept by the Boyd County Detention Center on bookings related to marijuana showed that marijuana usage doubled in 2017 compared to 2016 and doubled again in 2018 to a high of 194 bookings.

Hale began using marijuana recreationally in 2017, just as usage trends began to rise in the Boyd County area, according to the data from the detention center.

Hale was arrested on July 2, 2020, for possession of methamphetamine at Office Max in downtown Ashland. Since his release from county jail processing that evening, Hale has spent the last year overcoming his addiction.

“I was sitting there, handcuffed to the wall in Boyd County Jail in the processing area, and I just looked at myself and I realized, ‘Hey, this is not right. This is not what I want for my life. It’s not what I want to be, or who I want to be. This is not me.’”

“I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and be proud and happy of who I was,” he added.

At the same time of his arrest, COVID-19 had a huge impact on the country. People were laid off, sent home, and were asked to stay there if they did not operate in an essential business.

Hale attributes COVID-19 and the relief funds he received due to it, from unemployment and stimulus checks, as part of the reason he was able to afford to stay home and focus on recovering from his addiction.

Records obtained from the Boyd County Detention Center indicate marijuana arrests were on a steep incline between 2016 to 2018. However, in the years following, the number of bookings has begun to decline. In 2021, the second year of the United States dealing with COVID-19, the number of annual bookings has dropped to 87 cases related to marijuana charges.

“In that area it is hard to start over whenever everywhere you go around there, you know all the dope spots …” Hale said. “It’s especially hard (in Ashland) whenever places won’t even consider you because you had a direct charge, whether it’s a felony charge or a misdemeanor charge.”

Despite resources existing in Ashland for addiction treatment, Hale said he felt many of them were too focused on opioids, with plenty of methadone clinics in the area but not many that were focused on helping methamphetamine or marijuana addictions.

“I feel that not just in Ashland, but really in the whole of the United States that there’s too much spending in fighting the crime of possession or trafficking of drugs, and not enough government spending in rehabilitation,” said Hale.

Statistics from the Pew Research Center indicate that, in 2018, 40% of arrests nationwide were on marijuana-related charges. In Kentucky, possession of up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor. Any more than that is considered evidence of trafficking, and results in a felony charge.

Hale said he believes if there were more publicly available resources for rehabilitation, at costs that low-income or uninsured addicts could afford, that it would help incentivize people to reach out to treatment facilities in spite of the stigma associated with them.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever looked into rehab or stuff like that, but they’re not cheap,” said Hale. “And if you don’t have good insurance, most insurance will cover it, but if you don’t have it a lot of times you’re just screwed.”

Hale is 528 days clean now. Thanks to support from his family, he was able to overcome his addiction and moved out to their home in Nevada, Texas, where he says the stigma of drug usage isn’t nearly as bad as it is in Ashland.

Hale’s story is not an unfamiliar one in Ashland. Ashland was labeled as a “High Intense Drug Trafficking Area” in 2020. Dozens of people are arrested annually for marijuana and other drug-based charges.

In 2016, there were 59 people booked at the detention center for marijuana charges. In 2017, this nearly doubled, and in 2018, the number of incarcerated individuals doubled again to sit at a high of 194 people who were booked in 2018 for marijuana charges.

Despite 2021 being the lowest number of marijuana bookings in five years, it still sits at a 147% increase compared to 2016’s total 59 bookings.

“It’s more prevalent than heroin or meth, marijuana is,” said Sergeant Brian Horn of the Ashland Police Department. “It’s as prevalent as a pack of Marlboro.”

According to Sgt. Horn, he estimates 98% of the calls to which he and his department respond are related to drugs or alcohol in some way. Horn said the most popular calls to the department are domestic cases, a majority of which are caused by or are related to drug usage.

Many states are looking to the legalization of marijuana, whether that be for recreational or medicinal usage. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of May 2021, there are 36 states that have legalized marijuana usage in some way.

In the tri-state area, Ohio was the first to move toward this, legalizing medical marijuana in 2016. West Virginia followed soon after, legalizing the medicinal use of it in 2017.

Over the following years, these changes were implemented into those states. At the same time, there was an increase in marijuana bookings at the Boyd County Detention Center.

“In Kentucky there is no prescription for it at this time,” Horn said. “So, if someone says it’s a prescription, well it’s not in Kentucky. And I’m certain that the laws that they have — if you get a prescription in West Virginia to use marijuana, it says you gotta use it in West Virginia.”

Many people support decriminalization of marijuana, knowing it would help people who suffer from certain health conditions, like glaucoma or Alzheimer’s, or just because they don’t believe it should be a criminal offense.

Even the County Attorney for Jefferson County in 2019 introduced a policy to not prosecute possession of marijuana cases involving an ounce or less of it.

While there are certainly benefits that the legalization of marijuana may lead to, many members of the community see it in a different light.

“I don’t think decriminalizing drugs will make a good positive change,” said Horn. “Some people think marijuana isn’t bad in Ashland. But we’ve had murders over marijuana. Murders. And people think ‘Ah, it’s just weed, there’s nothing to it.”

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction of any kind, there are places in the community you can go for help. Reach out to addiction counseling centers for help.

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