Opinion: Information needed on marijuana effects

Linda Frazier

Most marijuana-related news focuses on how to invest, tax revenue for states, shops and growers. But there’s a lot missing from this conversation. How are states legalizing marijuana in ways that protect public health based on facts, science and rational analysis?

In this Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 file photo, a customer purchases marijuana at the Harborside marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Calif., on the first day that recreational marijuana was sold legally in California. State regulators get credit for taking on the massive job of transforming the longstanding illegal and medicinal marijuana markets into a unified, multibillion-dollar industry, but the results have been mixed. Some companies are doing well, but many others are not.

As of today, 10 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana use. More than 30 have legal medical marijuana, and both Canada and Mexico have federal approval of medical and recreational usage. With even more states poised to legalize cannabis, ample questions are being raised about governance and regulation, health effects, scientific research, and public health.

In the United States, where the federal government still officially decrees marijuana to be illegal, the federal government continues to be abdicating its role of leading in a world in which there is no natural centralized body for collecting, analyzing, and sharing information and knowledge learned across states — and from our neighbors to the north and south.

It is vital that we as a nation understand the potential benefits and consequences of cannabis legalization, how to create sensible policies/regulations, and how to design effective education programs for clinicians and citizens. Cannabis poses different issues than alcohol or tobacco, and there is an opportunity to learn from those industries about what has worked and what has not. States new to legal cannabis also need support and clarity as they grapple with public debate, public health and safety challenges, and the complexities of designing a state cannabis system.

That’s why the 2019 North American Cannabis Summit is so important to national public health and understanding. This multinational conference offers a neutral forum for stakeholders from all arenas to come together and discuss controversial topics objectively, in the context of respectful dialogue and open exploration.

At the 2017 National Cannabis Summit in Denver, attendees felt they could share and ask questions and receive practical, applicable knowledge and experience to bring back to their states. The 2019 Summit is expanding to include the perspectives and lessons learned from Canada and Mexico, and it’s being held in California — one of the first states to legalize cannabis and the one furthest in the journey of implementation.

There are so many questions, and so many unknowns. How does legalization affect our youth? Our seniors? How about pregnant women and young families? What about cannabis in certain settings, like the workplace, the criminal justice system, personal family homes, and public housing? How are we monitoring and surveilling the results of legalization and sharing data in consistent ways?

Hearing from academics, researchers, policymakers, implementers and clinicians gives listeners the kind of science-based information they need, whether they are lawmakers, healthcare providers or other researchers seeking their own answers.

This month, the 2019 North American Cannabis Summit in Los Angeles will explore themes of public health, science, and health equity; public safety; prevention and education; emerging research and epidemiological data; governance, federal law, and emerging policy; health effects; and regulatory issues.

Before we go too much further down this road, let’s make sure we’re paying attention to the collective knowledge we’re gaining from the experience of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Let’s use what we know and learn to inform the emerging cannabis industry, to keep public health and the needs of communities front and center, and to implement legalization in as measured and replicable a way as possible.

Linda Frazier is director of addictions initiatives at Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.