Marijuana: Medical benefits dominate Lake Tahoe discussion
February 4, 2016
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — On Friday, 150 area people filled the Alpine Ballroom at the Resort at Squaw Creek to discuss, debate and dissect one of the most controversial topics recently in the North Tahoe-Truckee region: marijuana.
In an event hosted by the Squaw Valley Institute titled "The Cannabis Industry and Science Research," five panelists opened up a dialogue about the current state of the marijuana industry.
The panelists for the event included Kayvan Khalatbari and Ean Seeb, co-founders of Denver Relief Consulting, which assists current and would-be marijuana-related businesses around the country; Dr. Chris Richards, who — along with being a practicing OBGYN for 26 years — educates and advises patients on the therapeutic benefits of cannabis as a member of Compassionate Health Options in Truckee; River Coyote, the director of Tahoe Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence; and Kara Fox, a Tahoe Vista resident and mother whose son has benefited from medical cannabis use.
Though some ground was covered in regard to the rapidly evolving cannabis industry from an economic and environmental standpoint, the use of cannabis for medical purposes dominated Friday's discussion.
Opening the event, Fox gave a 20-minute personal account of her son Julian's healing path through medical cannabis use. Julian suffers from cerebral palsy and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a type of epilepsy with multiple different types of seizures, particularly tonic (stiffening) and atonic (drop) seizures.
While attempting to manage his seizures, Julian had tried and failed 15 different pharmaceutical drugs by the time he was 5 years old — "my child was a guinea pig, a science experiment," Fox said.
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In 2013, after researching medical cannabis studies for nearly a year and receiving the blessing of her son's neurologist, Fox began using cannabidiol (CBD) as a form of treatment for Julian's seizures.
"While it took some trial and error on our part — trying different strains and ratios in dosing — Julian went from having 20-30 seizures a day down to one-two a day, without any negative side effects," Fox said. "That's unheard of when it comes to seizure management.
"I strongly believe if we were not using cannabis, his seizures would be worse and his quality of life would be poor."
With the topic of marijuana triggering much debate, there were moments during the discussion when the air grew thick with tension as opposing views on cannabis collided.
This was epitomized during the Q-and-A portion when a man referred to Khalatbari's use of cannabis as a "daily crutch."
Khalatbari — who earlier in the evening said he uses cannabis both medically and recreationally — took exception.
"A 'crutch,' huh?" Khalatbari fired back. "What if I like to have a bubble bath every day, and a glass of wine, is that a crutch?
"I use cannabis every single day to treat my anxiety, my depression, my sleeplessness, my appetite," continued Khalatbari, a founding member of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America. "The state (of Colorado) doesn't need to tell me those aren't qualifying conditions; I know they are, and I've gotten treatment for them."
While everyone on the panel agreed there are potential medical benefits of cannabis, Coyote argued that the medical marijuana industry's continual growth is harmful to adolescents, pointing to a local statistic to help frame her assertion.
"Right now, there's about 18 kids in Tahoe-Truckee schools that are in drug diversion," said Coyote, a 23-year resident of North Lake Tahoe. "And you won't be surprised when I tell you that 100 percent of them are marijuana (users). These kids are trying to cut down their use, they're getting assistance and help, and I don't really see how opening up a big industry in their face is going to help them decrease their marijuana use."
Notably, a medical marijuana dispensary, NuLeaf, is tentatively scheduled to open this spring in Incline Village. This comes on the heels of a dispensary opening in nearby Reno, and another slated to open this month in Sun Valley.
To cap the event, each panelist was given the opportunity to outline the message they hoped was delivered to the 150 area residents in attendance.
Coyote perhaps best summarized the central theme of Friday's cannabis discussion.
"We can say that, yes, there is most definitely some therapeutic benefits potentially in the (marijuana) plant," Coyote said. "I think the problem right now is it's still a drug of abuse; that marijuana is addictive, its harmful … And how do we balance serving people like Kara (Fox and her son Julian) and people that can maybe benefit from this while not harming the kids that are seeing this as not harmful and thinking it's not a big deal?"