Commercialization of cannabis was the theme of a recent meeting at the Litchfield Historic Opera House.

The event was planned in response to the state DFL’s support for a commercial marijuana bill. Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota, which recognizes the economic, safety and health concerns of commercialized marijuana use, sponsored the event.

Miranda Gohn of Litchfield, a volunteer for SAMMn and organizer of the Nov. 20 meeting, said the group is trying to prevent Minnesota from legalizing recreational or commercialized marijuana because, she believes, it will create more harm than good.

“There are 11 states now that have fully legalized (marijuana),” Gohn said, alluding to some arguing that marijuana legalization is inevitable. “So that’s 11, not 25 out of 50, not 49 out of 50. And each state, when they first legalized, saw all the problems of the first state. And each state after that said, ‘We see all those problems, we know you’re concerned about it, but we’re going to do what we can to make sure we don’t have those problems,’ and every single state has failed." 

Two guest speakers, Judson Bemis and Dr. Ken Winters provided an overview of the health and social implications of commercial cannabis by reviewing the science and trends of other states that legalized marijuana. Bemis is the chair of SAMMn, and Winters is a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute in Minnesota and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology at University of Minnesota.

During the event, Bemis and Dr. Winters discussed 10 pro-marijuana arguments and attempted to debunk them:

  • Cannabis is a safe drug: Winter and Bemis said cannabis is not a harmless drug. The THC part of the plant is addictive and current THC potency is stronger than before.
  • Cannabis is medicine: Maybe, it is too early to say the marijuana plant is an effective medicine, they said.
  • Marijuana replaces opioids for pain: According to the guest speakers, a Feb. 1, 2019, study showed low evidence that marijuana alleviated neuropathic pain, and that marijuana as an efficacious treatment for opioid use was even weaker.
  • Cannabis is commonly used: This is misleading, they said. Most Minnesotans older than age 25 do not use cannabis. The majority of users are 18-25 years old, they said.
  • Legalization is inevitable: They said this is misleading because in two years, 10 states have applied brakes on full legalization of commercializing cannabis.
  • Adolescent use will not increase because minimum legal age will be 21: This is unlikely, the speakers said as current data indicates a higher rate of underage cannabis use in commercial cannabis states versus non-commercial cannabis states.
  • Cannabis users unjustly punished by law enforcement: This is also misleading, they said, because legalizing cannabis will not resolve social injustice issues.
  • Prohibition is a failed policy: The speakers believed this is a slanted argument, as governments legislate all kinds of prohibitions in the name of public health and public safety.
  • The black market will be eliminated: Not likely, they said, as they believe the opposite is occurring in legalized commercial cannabis states.
  • The state will benefit from tax revenues: This is misleading, the speakers said. Commercialization backers rarely discuss costs associated with widespread use of the drug on health care, mental health services, law enforcement, businesses and consumers.

“The problem is, now they’re starting to see with that (higher THC) potency, mental illness, higher frequency of psychosis — it increases the risk,” Gohn added. “What makes this (issue) insidious is within the pot/drug culture, and also, it’s promoted by the industry that it’s harmless, it’s good for you, it’ll cure every ailment known to humans. That makes it even more difficult.”

The correlation between cannabis use and psychosis isn’t conclusive. According to a 2019 study in National Institutes of Health by Marco Leyton, a professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University.

“If it does, one estimate is that daily adolescent use could be a contributing factor for up to 20 percent of new psychotic disorder cases,” Leyton said. “Establishing a causal link — if it exists — will be challenging. The great majority of cannabis users do not develop psychotic disorders, and most people with psychoses were not frequent cannabis users.”

If commercial cannabis is legalized in Minnesota, Gohn believes taxes will go up.

“Just so a small number of people could get legally high,” she said, “and some of them are addicts. And then you got a very small population that are going to make a lot of money, and the rest of us are going to end up paying for this.”

Sarv Mithaqiyan is a reporter for the Leader's sister newspaper, the Litchfield Independent Review.

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