It Takes A Year

It has been a year since I returned to Rhode Island after living elsewhere for nearly five decades. Often, a year is enough distance to reflect and gain insights from life’s events.

Here, I reflect on some things I have learned about cannabis since I returned to Rhode Island a year ago.

I did not appreciate the extent to which a negative stigma about cannabis persists, even after legalization. When I interviewed people for Motif articles, several folks pointed out — in one way or another — that cannabis still evokes a negative attitude among large parts of the public. When I meet new people and they ask what I do in retirement, I tell them one of the things I do is write a cannabis column for Motif Magazine. In response, eyebrows are often raised, followed by an “Ohhhhh…” And not in a good way. Perhaps the Biden administration’s recent initiative to remove cannabis from Schedule 1 status will be a step towards overcoming the negative cannabis stigma that persists?

Attending the Legalization Celebration in Cranston last December opened my eyes to the myriad aspects of social justice that still need to be addressed in a cannabis context. Tax monies from cannabis sales need to cycle back to communities ravaged by the heinous war on drugs that put hundreds of thousands of people of color in jail for simple possession of cannabis. Furthermore, members of marginalized communities need to be incentivized and subsidized to become part of the cannabis business community. A bright spot on the social justice front is that there are educational opportunities for nearly everyone with a high school diploma to help them become trained professionals qualified to work in the cannabis industry. These well-paying jobs are widespread and increasing.

After I made the circuit visiting Rhode Island dispensaries, I realized that many of our recreational dispensaries are clustered in the Providence metro area. Many dispensaries are located within just a few miles of each other. There are only two RI recreational dispensaries located in towns — Exeter and Portsmouth — with rural character. There are 23 times (162 to 7) more packaged liquor stores than cannabis dispensaries in RI. We need at least a few more cannabis dispensaries out in the woods and down by the beach.
As a research scientist who has read tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles on many aspects of biology, I know that research on cannabis’ effects on humans is a distant backwater. Writing the article on autism and cannabis for Motif hammered this home to me. It hit me hard. For example, consider the published case history of an elementary school student classified as “unschoolable” because this child presented violent behaviors that caused harm to self and others and was often inconsolable. This child went through the gamut of talk therapy and psychotropic drugs to no avail. Within weeks after the parents started dosing their child with CBD, his behaviors mitigated to the point where he could attend school. When this child and his family went on vacation, and could not travel with CBD, the child reverted to past negative behaviors. After returning home, and resuming CBD doses, the child was able to return to school in a couple of weeks. Inferences — however limited because this was only one clinical patient — from a powerful case history such as this one clearly point to the need to expand and increase rigorous scientific research on how cannabis affects our human condition.
This recent development is one of the most encouraging things I learned about cannabis since I returned to Rhode Island. That the flagship university in Rhode Island — URI — offers classes in cannabis is tremendous. That Johnson & Wales University offers a bachelor’s degree in Cannabis Enterprises is beyond tremendous.

The simple idea that a consumer can identify the percentage of THC and CBD in a cannabis product is revolutionary. The concept of clean, pesticide-free cannabis products is something that non-regulated cannabis producers cannot claim. Labels showing the percentage of terpenes — or even sometimes a terpene profile — are a breakthrough for cannabis consumers.

Admittedly, the way cannabis products are packaged in Rhode Island leaves something to be desired. Foil bags with strange, inverted Ziploc tabs are nearly impossible to open, unless you have a utility knife or sharp scissors and a glass jar with a sealed lid to store the product after you destroy the original packaging to get to the product. Hard containers, such as glass or plastic jars, are usually way oversized for the amount of product they contain, and these too can be nearly impossible to open. I understand the motive behind this packaging engineering – to child-proof the product. But c’mon! Alcohol is not packaged with such a Fort Knox philosophy. Why should cannabis?
Over the course of my career, there were five times when I started a new and challenging job. Each time, it took me a year to understand and appreciate the complexities of each new position. After a year in RI, I am beginning to appreciate not just what I know — but also what I do not know — about cannabis.