For two hours, dozens of Spotswood residents sat or stood and listened to a panel discussion, frequently joining in on the passionate dialogue and debate. In the end, everyone agreed on one thing. The discussion needs to continue.
Titled "Marijuana. It's Complicated – Let's Talk," the July 17th event featured a panel of experts that included NCADD of Middlesex County, Inc. CEO & Executive Director Steve Liga; Amanda Bent, New Jersey Drug Policy Associate at the Drug Policy Alliance; Timothy B., a Rutgers University student; and Detective Scott Hoover of the Spotswood Police Department.
The event was moderated by Evan Weiss, Director of Admissions at Integrity House. Among the topics covered was whether marijuana is a gateway drug. The consensus among the panelists was that most people who use marijuana do not become addicted, but of those individuals who develop substance use disorders most start with marijuana before moving on to other drugs. The question was raised whether marijuana is "safe to use," and the panel agreed that it depends on the individual and that a blanket assessment cannot be made. Detective Hoover pointed out that it is not uncommon for officers in Spotswood to stop vehicles and observe the odor of marijuana, indicating use by the driver or other occupants. But, noted Hoover, he and other officers are more likely to encounter drivers who are under the influence of prescription drugs or alcohol.
When the discussion turned to whether marijuana has medical benefits, Mr. Liga pointed out that "smoking anything is unhealthy, and we would never accept our doctors prescribing anything else in this format." "Yet," he continued, "it is likely some of the many psychoactive chemicals in marijuana could be synthesized into real medicine in the future." Ms. Bent noted, "That may be true, but that doesn't help those suffering now."
But both Mr. Liga and Ms. Bent agreed that more balanced non-politicized research is needed in order to determine the extent of both the potential benefits and harms of marijuana use.
Perhaps what was most striking about the event was the respectful tenor of the discussion.
Those in attendance ranged from adolescents to grandparents, and everyone was accepting of each other's views. The majority seemed to agree current policy should change, but only in a carefully considered and measured approach.
Attendees at the event were treated to light refreshments and a raffle that featured an iPad mini and other gifts donated by local merchants.
The event was sponsored by the Spotswood Municipal Alliance and their Alliance Coordinator Kacie Manzo, NCADD, and the Coalition for Healthy Communities.