Opening pot shops in Incline adds to availability – Mental Health Matters |

Opening pot shops in Incline adds to availability – Mental Health Matters

Andrew Whyman, MD
Special to the Sun-Bonanza
Andrew Whyman
File photo |

Are we edging up to another culture war? If history is our guide, we could be.

Recall the 1960ss: Vietnam. Anti-war sentiments boiling over across the nation. A besieged military. Kent State. The sons of middle class families drafted and killed in a far away place. Sex and drugs. 400,000 at Woodstock — virtually no violence, but lots of drugs. The pungent odor of weed, ganja, marijuana on college campuses, the Haight Ashbury and anti-war protest marches worldwide.

Enter the wise men of Washington amidst growing fears about a drug-crazed nation, and the violent, criminal Weather Underground.

“Peace with honor,” as Richard Nixon put it in 1973 as America departed Vietnam. And the rise of a War on Drugs to protect Americans from culture collapse.

Fifty years later and America has the highest rate of incarceration in the known world while four states have legalized marijuana, seven more are poised to do so in 2016, 11 states have decriminalized marijuana possession, and 23 states have legalized medical marijuana.

But as far as the feds are concerned, marijuana is illegal in any and all forms. More than half of the country, most of them younger, are cheering for legalization, while most of the rest worry about the decline of American vitality, enterprise, and moral standing.

Which transports us to Washoe County Commissioner Marsh Berkbigler’s packed meeting two weeks ago at the Incline Village Library with the Incline Village/Crystal Bay community.

A bit of background: California passed a Medical Marijuana initiative in the early 1990s and has had dispensaries ever since. The state recently passed strict new regulations about growing and sales.

Meanwhile, Nevada passed a Medical Marijuana initiative in 2002, and is just now getting around to promulgating regulations prior to opening Medical Marijuana Establishments (MME). At the moment, two dispensaries are moving forward in IV/CB.

A substantial number of locals, particularly families with adolescent youth, are rather distressed at the prospect of any MMEs in IV/CB. They argue that the presence of MMEs will negatively impact their children and ultimately the quality of family life in IV/CB.

They spoke convincingly, competently, and cogently to the commissioner and will appear in large numbers at a Nov. 10 Washoe County Commissioners meeting to make their case to the full board.

I understand and empathize with their position, their worries and their concerns. Raising children has never been more difficult. A retail establishment selling “medical” marijuana just a short bike ride away is an agonizing prospect for parents, particularly because while there are legitimate medical indications for MM, most of the product is actually sold for recreational purposes. Add to that the prospect of Nevada and California legalizing marijuana sales in 2016.

If you are a parent and want to keep your children safe, it’s logical and reasonable to curtail the availability of marijuana, medical or recreational, in your community.

What do the rest of the community think about this issue? Here’s a sample of what a group of “elders” or seniors had to say about MMEs in the village — 1: “Marijuana kills incentive. I’m against it.” 2: “Adolescent brains aren’t fully developed. Keep marijuana away from kids.” 3: “We should uphold the federal law prohibiting any marijuana use.” 4: “Corrupt doctors over prescribe opiates; they do the same with MM.” 5: “My husband died from cancer; MM eased his suffering.” 6: “I have a friend with multiple sclerosis; MM helps him.”

Tallying a vote of the elders about opening a MME in IV/CB — 11 against and 6 for. So, it’s not only fearful parents who are against a MME in IV/CB.

But here’s the rub. Illegal drugs, to include marijuana, are sold every day of the week. If you believe the core truth of a rumor, college students frequent the local high school to purchase their marijuana.

So, for every willing buyer of illegal drugs in the North Tahoe Area, you’ll find a willing seller. Follow the admission numbers in the Emergency Rooms of IV/CB and Truckee, and learn that “ at least 15 percent” of admissions are for drug and/or alcohol issues.

Opening a MME in IV/CB adds to availability. But stopping places from doing legal business won’t stop marijuana use and abuse. And it won’t curtail the amount of alcohol consumed or the sale of illegal drugs.

Which brings me to the issue of treatment. Preventing the use and abuse of marijuana in adolescence is important, but preventing the opening of a MME is only the beginning of civic engagement, not the endgame. There are, absent any MMEs, a significant number of adolescents and adults who abuse marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs.

What that means, absent any MME, is that there are a substantial number of adolescents and adults who cannot access timely, necessary, and at times life-saving substance abuse treatment because there is so little of it.

What is necessary, beyond petitioning the County to stop MMEs in IV/CB, is demanding adequate treatment resources.

I would hope that each parent who stands before the microphone on November 10 not only implores their Commissioners to curtail MMEs in IV/CB, but also implores them to designate resources to establish a mental health and substance abuse treatment program in the community.

“Just say no” didn’t work when Nancy Reagan, the then-president’s wife made it the central tenant of a drug education effort 40 years ago, and “Just say no” to drugs doesn’t work now.

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

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