Mental Health Matters: Pot forum was civil, but questions remain (opinion) | SierraSun.com

Mental Health Matters: Pot forum was civil, but questions remain (opinion)

Andrew Whyman, MD
Mental Health Matters
Andrew Whyman
File photo |

It was not a Donald Trump event — no yelling, no outbursts, no cheering, no “Trump salutes,” no finger-pointing, no near violent eruptions.

Instead, it was, as advertised by the Incline Business Network, an educational program on Medical Marijuana Establishments (MMEs), taking place March 31 at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village. The audience, estimated at 50 or so, was entirely respectful and peaceable.

Following a series of panel presentations, the moderator took written questions from the audience and presented them to the panel. It was all very nice, and even quite informative. Questions were respectful and thoughtful.

Not quite a love-in, but, unlike two public meetings with a Washoe County Commissioner in the past few months, it was well-mannered, and well-reasoned.

“Overall, there are many issues with health, political and criminal justice implications associated with rising medical marijuana and legal marijuana industries.”

Susanna Kintz, Esq., of the local law firm Reese, Kintz, and Guinasso, began the evening offering an “Overview of Medical Marijuana law in Nevada.”

She explained that MME regulation became effective in 2014 and that medical marijuana patients must be Nevada residents with a physician’s statement.

Furthermore, medical marijuana patients must be “diagnosed with a chronic or debilitating condition and use of marijuana may mitigate the symptoms.” Registration allows patients to purchase 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana in a two-week period, and residents of other states with appropriate documents can purchase marijuana.

Ms. Kintz listed the “Chronic or Debilitating Medical Conditions” which qualify for medical marijuana to include Cancer, PTSD, HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, Seizures, Spasticity Disorders, Pain, Insomnia, Headaches, Glaucoma, Crohn’s Disease, Hepatitis C, Anorexia, Nausea, Appetite loss, and more.

Next up, Heidi-Lynn Mitchel of Marblehead International Associates discussed the “Business Impacts of MMEs.” Some highlights of her presentation: 23 states and Washington, D.C., allow the use of medical marijuana. There are some 3,500 MMEs across the country. The MME industry is projected to double to $10.7 billion in sales by 2020, and the total legal sale of marijuana will be near $23 billion by then.

Describing economic impacts to date, Mitchel said that almost $1 billion of marijuana was sold in Colorado in 2015; tax revenue doubled with 60% of sales for recreational use and the rest toward medical marijuana. She also noted that 200,000 new jobs have been created countrywide with master growers earning between $80k and $150k.

Two poised and professional presentations from representatives of Incline’s first, and for now, only MME, Sean Luse and Sabrina Frederick followed. Mr. Luse introduced NuLeaf and discussed its planned operation. He talked about service, community, compassion and integrity, stressing medical marijuana as a valuable medication.

He cited a medical study showing that states with medical cannabis laws have significantly less opioid overdose mortality rates.

Ms. Frederick then reported, in talking about adolescents, that both Arizona and Maine saw significant drops in teen marijuana initiation following the licensing of dispensaries.

Representatives of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, to include Incline’s “own” Lt. Jeff Clark, emphasized that NuLeaf has been cooperative and inviting, that data collection will allow the county to assess the impact of an MME in IV/CB, and that this new industry is highly regulated and monitored.

As I said, it was not quite a love-in, but surely an evening emphasizing the potential benefits of a medical marijuana dispensary in Incline Village.

But, it did leave unasked and unanswered questions like: “Given that illegal marijuana is already readily available in the region, will the introduction of legal and state regulated medical marijuana erode the stigma of marijuana use in general?”

Or, “Both California and Nevada will vote on marijuana legalization in 2016. What impact might legal and state regulated medical marijuana have on this issue?”

And, “Chronic and debilitating conditions that include subjective complaints like pain, insomnia, headaches, nausea, and appetite loss are a wide-open barn door to obtain legal medical marijuana. Does that matter? If so, how?”

And, “You reference studies showing that legal MMEs are associated with a decline in marijuana initiation in teens. Are you suggesting that a legal, regulated marijuana industry will lead to a decrease in teen marijuana use?”

Or, lastly, “Transporting marijuana, recreational or medicinal, across state lines is illegal. Your thoughts?”

Overall, there are many issues with health, political and criminal justice implications associated with rising medical marijuana and legal marijuana industries.

So, the Incline Village Library is hosting a new series of “Tahoe Talks” beginning with a scintillating evening of guest experts, namely yours truly, and River Coyote, director for Tahoe Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence, who will facilitate a wide-ranging discussion of medical marijuana and more on Tuesday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Come prepared with your questions, observations and thoughts on this important community topic. I know I’ll be there.

Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. He can be reached for comment at adwhyman143@gmail.com.