On Sunday afternoon in Michigan Law School’s Hutchins Hall, professors, medical professionals, policymakers and business experts discussed the politics of marijuana legalization. More than 60 people attended the event, which was organized by Law Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an independent chapter of the nonprofit organization. Panelists discussed topics such as the comparison of natural and synthesized cannabis, medical marijuana prescriptions and policies aiming to mobilize research.
The panel was held in conjunction with Ann Arbor's annual Hash Bash festival, which took place on Saturday. Hash Bash was a day of festivities, hosting live music, speakers and poetry. While Hash Bash was more about fun and entertainment, the panels were a part of the organizers’ efforts to educate the public on marijuana-related issues.
When asked about the importance of attending events like these, event organizer Ari Goldstein, a Law School student, said the entrepreneurial opportunities the cannabis industry offers have not existed since the Great Depression.
“The cannabis industry kind of represents a cultural and entrepreneurial moment that hasn’t existed since the 1930s or 1933,” Goldstein said. “I think it is really critical because this is going to be a significant part of the economy as we move into the, you know, the new century here.”
One of the main issues addressed at the panel was the effectiveness of medical opiates versus cannabis as a way to treat chronic pain. When speaking about this topic, Kevin Boehnke, a research fellow at the Department of Anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, said several patient studies showed a preference among patients for cannabis pain relievers instead of their opioid counterparts.
“People say that they’re using cannabis because they had better symptom management, fewer adverse effects or (expressed) a lot of concerns about side effects with opioids and other pain medications,” Boehnke said.
As the talk shifted toward the topic of natural and synthetic cannabis, Gus Rosania, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, discussed inaccurate assumptions about the two types of cannabis. Rosania said other than the fact that one comes from nature and one from a lab, they are chemically identical substances with no distinguishing effects or characteristics.
“THC and cannabinol, if you really isolate THC — it is going to be very much like the synthetic,” Rosania said. “In fact, the only reason why we know or why we think we know what THC is because we can make the synthetic version. It is fundamental to basic organic chemistry. You have to make that compound and have that compound have the same properties.”
The panelists also touched on the political ramifications of the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of Michigan. Andrew Brisbo, the director of the state’s Bureau of Marijuana Regulation, summarized the progress of the bureau. Proposal 18-1 passed in November, and the bureau has mostly been gathering information from stakeholders to make a beneficial decision for all parties involved.
“To get things up and running and everything that needs to happen in a year is a monumental task,” Brisbo said. “One of the things we are trying to do and make sure we do things in the right way is engaging with stakeholder groups, so we get reverse perspectives on what we should be doing in terms of implementing that program. I see some faces in the room that have been part of those groups. We just want to make sure we are listening to all those perspectives.”
The legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana has sparked a large conversation among its stakeholder groups on how to best implement cannabis as an acceptable medical practice. Many audience members expressed their concerns about getting their physicians to recommend cannabis products rather than pharmaceutical parallels.
When speaking to one of the members of the crowd on why she attended the event, Zahra Abbas, a medical marijuana user, advocated heavily for the cannabis movement and its efficacy for treating her epilepsy.
“I have epilepsy and we tried everything including brain surgery and a device implant, and I was still having seizures daily,” Abbas said. “Once I started the cannabis, the seizures stopped, and I was able to get off my medications.”
With many in the audience looking to achieve similar healing, many people voiced their frustration on their inability to receive medical marijuana prescriptions from their physicians. Boehnke reassured the crowd, expressing his hopes that cannabis-based medicine would soon be in place as a regular medical recommendation.
“We are going against many, many years of cannabis being a substance of abuse and that is not going to change overnight,” Boehnke said. “If we’re patient, if we continue to engage with people and get good dialogue going with physicians who are craving information just as much as patients then there will be a lot of room for growth, especially if it done in a mutualistic way.”