Julia Montag: Green Wolverine, a fresh approach to student activism

Wednesday, September 26, 2018 - 7:15pm

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Though it’s been more than 20 years since marijuana legalization became popular in the ballots, the Green Wolverine Science Symposium marks the first student-organized cannabis science conference in University of Michigan history. Among the seemingly endless opinions regarding approval and legalization of cannabis, there remains truth in scientific research, and this event intends to highlight the latest, groundbreaking advancements from some of the country’s leading cannabis experts. It will diplomatically challenge the student body’s knowledge of a stigmatized topic, and it will do so without telling us how to think.

The symposium was planned in anticipation of the vote on the Marijuana Legalization Initiative in Michigan’s Nov. 6 election. The proposal would allow adults 21 years old and older to possess and use cannabis under state law. Legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana has been eagerly rising as many states have already passed some form of legislation in support of the plant. It’s time for Michigan folks to decide if cannabis will be legal  for recreational use in the mitten, and student organization Green Wolverine, the symposium’s host, wants to educate the Ann Arbor masses.

With the core purpose of informing students and rebuking prevalent misconceptions, the event is not meant to sway minds one way or another. Green Wolverine Founder Adam Rosenberg, a Business senior, says the symposium was put together solely to objectively educate and help facilitate informed decisions.

“We are not saying that people should or shouldn't use cannabis,” Rosenberg explained. “We are going to present the information as it exists in current science and allow people to come to their own decisions based on that.”

Green Wolverine, a Ross School of Business club, focuses on the educational and networking opportunities within the legal, multibillion-dollar cannabusiness industry. Though laws surrounding the industry are currently ambiguous, legal businesses are rapidly populating the cannabis market. Rosenberg recognized marijuana as a business prospect is plagued by stigmatization, resulting in its exclusion from a standard business education. Rosenberg spotted the opportunity his sophomore year at the Ross School of Business and started Green Wolverine to take advantage of the industry's rapid growth. The club does not take a political stance and, according to its mission, directs attention only to business opportunities that are entirely legal.

Now, we know there have been grand displays of student activism in the past: In March 1970, a four-day environmental teach-in at the University raised awareness and harnessed the passion that resulted in the first Earth Day just one month later. In 1965, University of California, Berkeley students organized the largest Vietnam teach-in, publicizing the truth about the war and making it easier for students to learn what’s going on in the world around them. I recognize demonstrations about war are distinguishable from those about drugs — however, similar to these teach-ins, the Green Wolverine Science Symposium is anything but a protest, making it a unique demonstration. Rosenberg agreed.

“This is not a political statement, this isn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion,” he said regarding the symposium. Like its activism ancestors in their respective fields, the symposium is the first of its kind in the realm of cannabis.

The discussion around cannabis legalization (along with the vast encyclopedia-length list of topics that politics comprises) becomes too noisy when personal beliefs, along with political, scientific and cannabis-related jargon, make the most fundamental information hard to understand. To abridge the evident gap between the numbers and the newspaper, math and magazine, experts need to disseminate their knowledge via the most direct route possible, involving the least amount of broken-telephone distortions. In 2017, the Drug Enforcement Administration electronically published information that turned out to be misinformation,  tracing the path of how information is often reported, re-reported, summarized and reworded until facts become inseparable from fiction — it’s like watching a video of a video of a recording of your professor’s lecture. The symposium is challenging that method of learning and providing information directly from the source: in person instead of on paper.

“Misconceptions are so prevalent when it comes to cannabis that no one really knows what the truth is until they hear it from the people doing the research themselves,” Rosenberg argued. “We are putting (those experts) on stage at one of the most prestigious universities in the world to talk about what cannabis really is.” One of the event’s most highly anticipated speakers, Dr. Sue Sisley, is a pioneer in the public health and medical fields. She is the principal investigator for the world’s first randomized control trial that investigates marijuana’s potential to help veterans battle post-traumatic stress disorder. Her study is funded by a $2.15 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Anatomy and Neurobiology professor Daniele Piomelli (pronounced Daniel, thank you Adam Rosenberg) will also be speaking at the symposium. He, along with the University of California, Irvine’s School of Medicine, was granted $9 million to inspire a new generation of cannabinoid research and answer the question that everybody seems to be asking: Does cannabis have long-term effects on the teenage brain? To find out, Piomelli is investigating the endocannabinoid system to see whether THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, rewires our brain anatomy in any way. Thank you, Piomelli. If there was an ideal time to study the mechanisms underlying the brain-cannabis interaction, now would be that time.

The Green Wolverine Science Symposium introduces a unique opportunity to learn and to elucidate the answers to the campus-wide and nationwide questions about cannabis. Maybe you’re for or against the legalization of cannabis, but it also may not matter so much to you. Perhaps you aren’t too certain about your opinion and want to learn more. You may have the symposium marked on your calendar because you are just that anxious to learn about cannabis research, or you may just be available this Saturday at 10 a.m. No matter the circumstance, an election requires an educated vote. Come receive a catered lunch at the Green Wolverine Science Symposium Saturday, Sept. 29 from 10:00 a.m to 4:20 p.m. in the Robertson Auditorium at the Business School. Green Wolverine is collaborating with the U-M College of Pharmacy and School of Nursing to host speakers from around the country to discuss their research. More information about the event is available here, and you can register to attend the event or livestream it here.

Julia Montag can be reached at jtmon@umich.edu.