(Recently, a community coalition that I am a member of decided to write a letter to “opt out” of legislation that discusses the future sales & regulation marijuana. The week after, the community voted down a bill that would allow for marijuana hospitality operations. The coalition still plans to send out a letter, making the topic of marijuana “closed” in our small-ish (6500 people) mountain community.)
Dear Respected Community Colleagues,
I’ve been considering this letter for a long time, until now deciding that I wouldn’t write anything, especially as I realize we already voted on the matter to request Estes Park “opting out” on future legislation. But truly, my wish is that as a community, we remain open to various possibilities of marijuana sales and consumption in Estes Park, despite the fail of the bill to allow for the sale of marijuana in town.
For those who wish to learn more, I’d like to dispel a few myths and share my side as a mental health therapist who has researched this topic and interned at Harmony Foundation.
As a therapist, I am not against the use of marijuana. There are people I know who have used it a few times and have not become addicted. Some choose to continue to use it recreationally, and others who have decided they do not like and have never used it again. On the other hand, I know of people who have developed some degree of an addiction, and/or used marijuana to self-medicate. A particular friend of mine did not have access to mental health services and carried deep, traumatic wounds. I never discouraged marijuana use with this friend, as I knew the other option for this friend would have been self-harm and possibly suicide. In conversations, we talked about some other mental health tools and possibly making more changes when they were ready… if I would have pushed, it would have cut our lines of communication, not unlike if I tried to push a client to quit who came in for therapy and wasn’t ready to quit.
But to get to my points more quickly: Addiction comes from pain, trauma, attachment wounds… I am not saying drugs/marijuana do not have addictive components, but they are never the sole reason, nor are genetics. Sure, I can say someone who comes from a family with an addictive parent has a high susceptibility to develop an addiction themselves, but no one can say if it is from attachment issues passed down from the parent, or genetic reasons…especially as research has not been able to find an “addiction gene.” There are reasons why some people become addicted and others do not. Furthermore, we also know that some people become addicted to fast food and/or sugary foods…but as far as I know, we’ve never written a letter to the town to ban McDonalds or the several taffy shops. Why? Well, these are “socially acceptable” addictions (that also bring the town income)…despite having negative health consequences that include those brought on from society from being overweight (depression, anxiety) and well as physical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and yes, death. Which brings me to my next point…
Drug prohibition is directly related to the prosecution of minorities. Even at Harmony Foundation, I knew very well that the white people were receiving treatment while people of color were going to jail. For more on this topic, I highly suggest reading Johann Hari’s book “Chasing the Scream”. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection.” In fact, I can not remember speaking to one client at Harmony Foundation felt that in the depths of their addiction that they had meaningful, honest, and heartfelt relationships with others. Connection may be the most important factor of group therapy.
In addition to the continual oppression of minorities, we also know from research and history that people in pain and have addictions will find other ways to obtain marijuane/their drug of choice, even if it is illegal. In the case of the sale of marijuna, it is almost a given that anyone who consumes it will go down to the valley to make their purchase, before driving up the canyon. We can hope they wait to consume it until they return to Estes Park, but again, we can only hope. While our town only has one Lyft driver, I believe that knowing what we know about drug use, it would be highly worth our exploring if it is in fact not safer to buy and consume the product at a designated location in town. For now, I’m going to dismiss the slippery slope argument of marijuane being consumed outdoors and in public areas, as current cigarette smoking laws lead me to believe that argument has no realistic basis.
Dr. Gabor Mate is one of the most well-known physicians and speakers on the topic of addiction. He is the author of the book “In the Realm of the Hungry Ghost: Close Encounters with Addiction”. If I can encourage community members to do anything, I ask that you please watch this video with Dr. Mate speaking on the topic of cannabis and addiction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2R3_728Xxc
Finally, to remain closed to further discussion on any topic, and in this case marijuana use and sales, is an unhealthy sign in any community. Research on recreational and medical use of marijuana is still be conducted, as well as on how the sales of marijuana affect a community. It is important that we trust future community members and leaders to have educated discussions on how to implement regulations.
Ask “not why the addiction, but why the pain.” -Dr. Gabor Mate
Ray A. Nypaver