Finding common ground on cannabis

As part of our educational outreach work at the Wellness Connection of Maine (WCM), we hear perspectives about cannabis from patients, health care workers, legislators and community members on all sides of the issue. I say “all sides” because, when it comes to cannabis, there’s no simple “pro” and “con.”

Even the most enthusiastic cannabis proponents will concede that there are some risks associated with its use, especially heavy use or that by youths; and even the most vocal opponents will agree that some benefits derive from responsible adults having safe, legal, regulated access to the plant. This holds true whether the conversation is limited to medicinal use, or whether it expands to include legalized adult use.

Cannabis Today will have ample opportunity to explore the more divisive issues that face us as we consider Maine’s existing medical cannabis program, and contemplate legalized adult use of cannabis. Regular contributors will include Dan Walker, David Boyer, Leo Trudel, and Cathy Cobb, plus many more leading thinkers on the medical, industrial and other uses of cannabis.

However, this first blog post will address the common sense, common-ground issues that must inform any reasonable discussion of cannabis use in Maine.

First, clinical science supports a wide range of therapeutic uses for cannabis. In the U.S., research is hindered by the plant’s inclusion in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, but the limited studies here and the much more extensive work being done in other countries indicate that cannabis has valuable medicinal potential, from shrinking tumors to treating PTSD. These studies are not often well-publicized in the U.S., and they challenge the traditional, Western, pharmaceutically-based assumption that use of a whole plant that naturally grows as a weed cannot be considered “medicinal.”

Nevertheless, cannabis has real medical value, and cannot be glibly written off as a “stalking horse” for adult use. If and when cannabis is legalized for adult use here, Maine should follow Colorado’s lead and use tax revenues to support further scientific research into the medical benefits of the whole plant’s therapeutic efficacy.

Second, there are some risks associated with use of cannabis, whether for therapeutic or recreational purposes. These risks may be low relative to other substances (pharmaceutical or other), and they may apply more to the user than to society, but they do exist. There is evidence that some cannabis users may become psychologically dependent upon it. And despite recent data from the CDC(source survey here) showing no statistically significant increase in adolescent use despite the growing number of states with legal medical and/or adult use of cannabis, most everyone can agree that, barring significant medical need, adolescents should avoid marijuana use. Resources should be devoted to educating young adults and the general public honestly about the relative risks of cannabis use. And neither the benefits nor the risks of cannabis use should be unduly magnified to inflame public opinion on one side or the other.

Third, education and stringent regulation are keys to expanding understanding of, and reducing both the personal and societal risks associated with, cannabis use. The successful regulation of the eight dispensaries in Maine by DHHS provides one example. Maine’s eight state-regulated dispensaries provide not only safe, reliable access to medical cannabis, but also extensive education to their clients about the responsible use of this herb, and WCM and other Maine dispensaries offer lockboxes and education about securing cannabis medicine to prevent diversion.

Looking at the two “adult use” states, Colorado appears to be reaping benefits from legalization, due in part to the fact that there was a regulated medical dispensary system in place ahead of adult use. Colorado is in the process of enacting more stringent regulations on edible packaging and labeling information. Washington State faces more hurdles, as they did not have a state-wide regulated medical dispensary market ahead of adult-use.

Much has been made recently of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s unsuccessful foray into Colorado cannabis edibles, but what did not receive mainstream media attention is the fact that Dowd was educated about responsible use of edibles before her experiment—education which she apparently chose to ignore.

It is our sincere hope that this blog will be a venue for exactly the type of honest conversation and education that responsible adults should—must—have about cannabis. Starting with the common ground issues that we can agree on, we will be able to move forward to have a discussion that accurately contextualizes and compassionately de-stigmatizes the responsible medical or recreational use of cannabis.

Becky DeKeuster

About Becky DeKeuster

Becky DeKeuster, M.Ed. is founder and director of community and education of the Wellness Connection of Maine, the state’s largest group of medical marijuana dispensaries. Wellness Connection operates four state-licensed dispensaries and one grow facility.