Littleton

Four people, four different takes on marijuana

Breckenridge Brewery hosts a night of discussion on four years of legal weed

Posted 3/21/17

A state regulator, a child psychiatrist, an anthropologist and a pastor walked into a brewery.

City Forum is meant to bring experts with divergent viewpoints together for a discussion. It hosted an event on the effects of four years of legalized …

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Littleton

Four people, four different takes on marijuana

Breckenridge Brewery hosts a night of discussion on four years of legal weed

Posted

A state regulator, a child psychiatrist, an anthropologist and a pastor walked into a brewery.

City Forum is meant to bring experts with divergent viewpoints together for a discussion. It hosted an event on the effects of four years of legalized marijuana at Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton on March 15.

It wasn’t really meant to be a debate.

“This is a place to redevelop common ground,” said organizer Brandon Addison of Littleton, senior pastor at Jefferson County’s The Neighborhood Church.

Addison worries that room for civil disagreement among friends is disappearing. He wants to promote curiosity and civility.

“If you’ve come here for full answers, you’ve come to the wrong place,” he said.

The regulator

Ron Kammerzell, Colorado Department of Revenue senior director of enforcementmight loosely be defined as Colorado’s “marijuana czar,” but he doesn’t just oversee weed. Most of his career has been spent regulating casino gaming.

“There are some parallels and similarities,” he said. “But there are many things that are quite different.”

Kammerzell’s job isn’t to advocate for or inveigh against the industry, but he did provide a brief synopsis of the recent history of marijuana in Colorado, beginning with the passage of Amendment 20 in 2000, legalizing medical marijuana, going up to the recreational market that has flourished since the 2012 passage of Amendment 64.

After a 2009 law provided a regulatory framework for medical marijuana distribution, the number of dispensaries dramatically increased.

“The joke in Denver was there were more dispensaries than there were Starbucks,” Kammerzell said.

The psychiatrist

Youth addiction specialist Dr. Christian Thurstone of Denver Health hasn’t always been against legal marijuana.

“Until 2010, I was a card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party,” he said. “I thought we shouldn’t just legalize marijuana, we should legalize all substances.”

Thurstone grew concerned about the effects of marijuana on youths, particularly after the increase in medical marijuana prescriptions, which he referred to as “de facto legalization,” and said pot is detrimental to brain development.

“I think there are some vulnerable populations that need to be protected,” he said.

Thurstone isn’t a full-on drug warrior. He said there is a spectrum between incarcerating marijuana users and absolute legalization. He is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana– not arresting people for using it but not legalizing its sale – and taking a public health approach to addiction.

The anthropologist

“I love cannabis,” CU Denver professorMarty Otanez tells the crowd.

Otanez, who researches the labor side of the Colorado marijuana industry and is a self-described “lefty,” came from punk rock, surf and skate culture in the San Francisco Bay area.

“I grew up smoking weed — it was part of what I did — and I got a Ph.D.” he said, citing himself as evidence that marijuana users can be productive members of society.

Otanez knows that the industry is not without its issues — he focuses on the exploitation of workers, who he says are exposed to mold, mildew and pesticides. He encourages them to assert labor rights, such as accessing health care and unionizing.

“What are they doing to live with dignity?” is a question asked in his research.

He wants transparency in the companies that are producing marijuana in the state.

“We can force the cannabis sector to be accountable,” he said.

The pastor

“It turns out that many people in our church use cannabis,” said Dave Morlan, pastor at Fellowship Denver and an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary.

Morlan remembered counseling a young married couple in which the wife was concerned about her husband’s use of marijuana.

“It impacted their marriage significantly,” he said.

Morlan worries that overuse of marijuana can lead to “amotivational syndrome” in young men, keeping them from being as successful socially or professionally as they might otherwise be.

However, he noted that most people in the audience had imbibed a different depressant that night — alcohol.

The couple he spoke of came to him before marijuana was legal in Colorado. It was easy to counsel the man not to consume illicit substances.

“The response to the use of cannabis isn’t as clear-cut anymore,” he said.

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