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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Arguments Amongst Friends: A Conversation On Marijuana

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“Different people, in good faith, can look at the same fact and interpret it differently. But that’s where an interesting conversation begins.”

  • Eric Schlosser, author of Reefer Madness

No one, it seems, is neutral about marijuana. Perhaps you agree with Kathy, who emailed the National Council to say, “Cannabis (medical marijuana) is saving thousands, if not millions, of Americans from opioid and alcohol abuse.”

Or you may relate to Nancy, who told us, “Being a former ‘pot head,’ I don’t see any good in marijuana. I am now 17 years sober and living my life to the most.”

Both Kathy and Nancy were among the dozens who wrote in response to two emails – one meant to elicit interest in a conference of “interesting conversations” – one apologizing for the unintended inference that the National Council supports marijuana.

There are few legislative and regulatory issues in the United States as dynamic as marijuana. In 2016, 20 states had marijuana-related questions on their ballots. Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational use. State and local governments, advocacy groups, medical professionals and consumers are vigorously engaged in conversations on the topic.

The National Council is co-sponsoring a National Cannabis Summit – along with Advocates for Human Potential and the Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network – exactly for this reason – to bring people together for conversations. The Summit provides an objective national platform to come together to discuss policies, advance research, enhance public health and safety and improve treatment.

We know stakeholders are passionate and not afraid to take a stand, so we expected no less of you! Several of you wrote to say that you were “ashamed” of us—some for the original email and others for the follow-up note. Some of you cited research which appears to indicate an increased risk of psychosis among people who use marijuana, compared to those who don’t.  Others cited research which points to the role of cannabis in reducing the frequency of seizures for children with a complex epilepsy disorder.

A few of you thought our apology email meant we had bowed to political pressure. And one commenter took exception to our use of quotations around the word “medical,” which he said completely disregarded “hundreds of published peer-reviewed articles on the medical benefits of cannabinoids for conditions including (but not limited to) Parkinson’s, chronic pain, IBD, cancer, late stage AIDS, etc.”

Many of you underscored that the genie is out of the bottle. And I agree. Legalizing marijuana has become big business, and I understand the power of business to get their way. As Allan commented:

“No one believes that smoking anything is health promoting, and we know that smoking cannabis can trigger psychiatric symptoms in vulnerable people. But there are serious questions of comparative risk versus benefits for all psychoactive substances. In my opinion, being open minded, informed and objective in weighing the evidence is more productive than hewing to a particular political agenda.”

That’s what the National Cannabis Summit is all about. And that’s where the National Council stands—on the side of having open-minded, informed, objective discussions about what we do, and don’t, know.

But there is much we do know and can agree on.

We know that young people and people with mental illnesses and addictions should not be using cannabis.

We know that addictions are not moral failings—they are chronic medical disorders that are preventable and treatable. People can and do recover.

We know that reductions in Medicaid funding proposed by the Senate will cause millions of people to lose live-saving treatments, staff to lose their jobs, and communities and states to continue to suffer the ravages of the opioid epidemic.

It’s time to have “interesting conversations.” Register for the National Cannabis Summit August 28–30. Bring an open mind and an open heart, never losing sight of the suffering of individuals and families. At the end of the day, they don’t care about business or politics – they just care about being healthy and productive, and we owe it to them to understand how to make that happen.

And thank you for your emails. I read every one of them.