Guest columnist Ezra Parzybok: The harms of the drug war did not end with legalization

  • Marijuana plants for the adult recreational market are seen hanging in a drying room at a farm in Suffolk County, N.Y., Oct. 4, 2022. AP

Published: 1/24/2023 5:15:21 PM
Modified: 1/24/2023 5:14:55 PM

Florence cannabis prohibitionists succeeded in blocking a pot shop in their backyards — making the mayor defy the ordinance on by-right retail cannabis, a progressive policy of ‘normalization’ in response to an irrational and failed drug war. Prohibitionists (and parents who have nothing to say to their kids about cannabis other than what they learned in the “drugs fry your brain” ads) have a right to be concerned about the shocking fact that legal cannabis is visible to young adults. They have few tools for dealing with its visibility and potential harm to children other than to impose more limits on a regulated market that is already capping itself (the first shop in the state to close did so in Northampton last month).

A license cap of the laughably high number of 12 will do nothing to save the local weed economy or the children. For fear of sounding pro-drug, city officials demure to the testimony of so-called “experts” in city and school health departments who have no knowledge of or desire to understand cannabis or its consumers. Our public health officials perpetuate the tired drug war tactic: refusing to approve the funding of, or on a local level, even discuss cannabis science unless it points to cannabis harms. Skewing science to justify an abstinence-only message is propaganda. It villainizes social equity applicants (think Black, Brown, and busted) whose worst harm from cannabis has been federal drug raids.

Despite searching for decades, neuropharmacologists have found little compelling evidence ” … that moderate levels of use are going to produce long-lasting cognitive deficits.” For the savvy Northampton youth, respect fades for the prevention scare tactics they can easily contradict with a Google scholar search.

Curious kids, and those who will become addicts or fight mental illness as adults need comprehensive cannabis education. Propaganda makes parents helpless and shames kids. For the sake of public health, we must require comprehensive science and respect teen intelligence, when developing cannabis policy. In other peer-reviewed studies, young adult cannabis use has been shown to increase pro-sociality and decision-making skills compared to non-users; necessary traits to sustain mental health and make it to adulthood.

In school drug surveys, prohibitionists can ask where from and how much is consumed, but they can’t (or choose not to) ask whether kids are self-medicating an untreated trauma, consuming alone versus with friends, or whether it may be reducing debilitating symptoms and they should speak to a knowledgeable physician. Abstinence-only education failed with teen sex. Northampton could be the first city to move beyond the zero-education pot policy of the federal government; that the plant is dangerous and has no medicinal benefits. (confusingly, one of its dozens of compounds is an FDA-approved drug).

More seasoned experts, such as the Colorado Children’s Hospital, encourage conversations with kids; “[I]t’s best to look for everyday opportunities where the topic comes up more naturally — such as when you’re driving or walking past a local dispensary.” So much for this opportunity in Florence.

Because we continue a policy of propaganda-only education, parents hide their moderate or medicinal cannabis use from doctors but still drink alcohol in front of their children before driving them home from the restaurant. My teens, who took my four-week cannabis education class at age 14, now know how to check in on heavy users at school who are in danger of harm. If I was creating new legislation in Northampton, a city known for tolerance, embracing social justice, and a high percentage of young and old people who consciously consume cannabis over alcohol, I would require the public health director and school nurses to take one of the dozens of medical cannabis certification courses available to health professionals in the country.

I would push Northampton to be the first city or town to hold a cannabis education week, with City Hall inviting the many experts who do live in the Valley to share their knowledge on benefits, harms, and cannabis culture. I would allow a safe space for scientific discussion not influenced by federal funds or the professionals mandated to parrot the failed federal stance. I would propose pot shops go beyond the state-mandated education materials that no one reads and offer live education on cannabis safety and potential benefits. I would designate an area downtown, finally, for adult users who can not do so legally in subsidized housing, to safely partake without disrupting public spaces used by all; an obvious first step in supporting social equity. I would propose a municipal fine for the selling of untested, untraceable cannabis and cannabis products instead of allowing law enforcement to ignore the black market.

Finally, I would propose to remove the word “marijuana,” from the bylaw and replace it with the proper term for the plant. Marijuana is a slang term steeped in the racist, anti-immigrant history of the United States. If we’re ready to buck the drug war mindset, embrace social justice and the regulated industry we overwhelmingly voted for, then this is a good place to start.

Ezra Parzybok is a cannabis consultant, Florence resident, and parent of two, both of whom have taken his teen cannabis education class.
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