Some looking at business opportunities, impacts

Attendees at the Kenai Community Cannabis Coalition’s town hall meeting at the Challenger Center last night represented a wide range of perspectives on the marijuana issue. Some were glad to “come out” as recreational marijuana users. Others were prospective owners of marijuana businesses, and others were opponents of marijuana legalization who had come to make their opinions heard.

Jennifer Anderson, a forensic and critical care nurse, described herself as a cannabis supporter. Citing her experience as a nurse, she contrasted cannabis with other drugs, the users of which she has treated.

“In my career as a nurse, I’ve never once detoxed someone from cannabis. I routinely detox people from alcohol, street drugs, heroin, or pills,” she said.

Although Anderson herself is not a cannabis user, she said “I want to know that if I choose to smoke it­­­­ — if I have a chronic disease or a terminal disease, that I can have access to it. That is my right as an American citizen. I don’t think anyone should tell me what I can or cannot use for myself.”

To that end, Anderson and her husband are considering opening a medical cannabis dispensary when the state begins licensing marijuana establishments in 2016.

“We had the opportunity to tour one in Washington this summer, we made some contacts, and I was really impressed by how professional it was,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that medical marijuana could provide an effective alternative to addictive opiate-based painkillers.

“My perspective is, I’ve seen it work medically,” said Anderson. “Being a nurse, I would much rather see people have access to that, and not just be limited to pharmaceuticals.”

Currently, Anderson and her husband are waiting to see how state and local marijuana regulations will form before creating their business strategy.

“We don’t really have any hard fast plans,” she said. “We do have some potential investors.”

Other prospective marijuana entrepreneurs at the meeting were interested in recreational use. Les Baker, 21, of Soldotna, a college senior studying physical therapy, said that he makes and uses recreational butane hash oil, and may turn his hobby into a business when licensing begins.

Hash oil, also known as concentrate or extract, refines the resin of the marijuana plant to concentrate the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), creating a product that Baker said “is more intense (than weed), from 20 to 30 percent THC to 90 percent.” Butane gas is used in the process of separating the chemical THC from marijuana plant matter. Baker and meeting moderator Eric Derleth said that oil is an increasingly popular type of cannabis consumption, especially among younger users, for whom it is replacing leaf-smoking as the method of choice.

Following the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, there have been reports of explosions and fires caused by hash oil-making attempts in those states. Baker said that “done properly, it’s just as dangerous as filling up your car.”

“Since Washington and Colorado made it legal, that (the danger of hash oil explosions) has been a huge bugaboo,” said Baker. “Butane hash oil sounds really bad to people … But when it comes here, and when you hear ‘butane hash oil,’ don’t get scared. I’m definitely for education, not just ‘Oh, this is legal!’ and letting it go. Education — doing it right and being safe about it.”

Shari Conner was among the attendees who did not support the legal use and distribution of marijuana. Conner, who works at Central Peninsula Hospital’s Serenity House addiction treatment center, said her experience working with drug-users has convinced her that marijuana legalization and distribution would be negative for the area’s youth. Working with marijuana users at Serenity House has made Conner skeptical of Derleth’s characterization of marijuana as a non-addictive drug.

Conner said that another point of Derleth’s presentation — that legalization and regulation of marijuana would make it less accessible to youth than it presently is as a black market drug — was also inconsistent with her experience. Derleth related how illegal black market marijuana was easily attainable during his own youth in the late 1980s, while acquiring legal, regulated alcohol was more difficult.

“Kids at the center have told us that alcohol is in fact freely available in their homes, sometimes from their parents” said Conner. “We’re worried now that they could start cannabis use through the same contact point.”

Although Conner remained opposed to marijuana use, she said that the Community Cannabis Coalition’s potential to provide education about marijuana was greatly needed, and that the tone of the town hall meeting had been a pleasant surprise for her.

“I thought the attitude at this meeting would be just like ‘Let’s start opening stores!’ But I really liked the emphasis on responsible use and education, which was very different from what I expected,” said Conner.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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