If you were designing a facility to dispense a substance that has recently been legalized for medical use in your state, how would you do it? The legalization of this substance is a highly controversial, fraught issue, and much of the opposition to its legalization for medical use revolves around questions of how legitimately it can be used as medicine in the first place, and attendant concerns that so-called “medical use” is just a ruse to cover for recreational consumption. Indeed, though the substance has been legalized in your state, it is still illegal from a federal perspective. With all that in mind, what kind of space would you create for distributing this tenuously-legal substance?
I think this is the wrong approach:
A medical marijuana dispensary that’s scheduled to open in Portland next month is designed as a California-style wellness center. Its operator is promoting a free coffee and tea bar, acupuncture clinics, support groups, counseling and a “welcoming vapor lounge.”
The new website of Wellness Connection of Maine says, “Patients are always welcome to relax and socialize near our fireplace, or enjoy a free cup of tea with a friend in our cafe space.”
Before I continue, let me state my opinion on marijuana legalization — I think marijuana should be completely legal for recreational use. I can honestly think of no good reason for it to be otherwise. While I think the War on Drugs in general has been a miserable failure, I can at least grok why trying to keep people from using meth or heroin or certain other nasties is good in theory. Marijuana? No clue. If we allow people to smoke tobacco and drink alcohol (which we should, much to my own liking in the latter case), it is absurd that a much less addictive and harmful substance than either is illegal.
That said, if proponents of medical marijuana are trying to create a public image as a legitimate clinical intervention, then I think they’re making a mistake to create a social atmosphere around its distribution. People don’t typically hang out where they get their medication. Most retail pharmacies have done a particularly good job of designing a soul-deadening space, inhospitable to all but those with pressing reasons to be there, which practically screams “people are only here for legitimate medical needs!” Nobody wants to head to Duane Reade to hang out after their pharmacist doles out the pills for their acid reflux.
Conversely, Wellness Connection of Maine proclaims itself to be a space for social interaction. A cafe and vapor lounge (which is the pot equivalent of a bar, if I read it correctly) are places to relax and spend time with friends. They do not conform to the idea of what a clinical space looks like, at least not to me. (Maybe we should consider putting in an espresso bar in one of our exam rooms?) Creating a space like this gives credence to detractors’ argument that medical use is a scrim of false legitimacy that is meant to hide is real use, which is primarily recreational.
Indeed, the plan is running into just that kind of reaction:
Creating a social setting for the dispensation of medical marijuana is unhealthy because it promotes more marijuana use than is medically necessary and puts users and the public at risk if customers drive home under the influence, said John Thiele of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.
In California, which also allows marijuana to be distributed for medical purposes, many dispensaries have become popular hangouts, he said, and that’s one reason California has run into problems with the federal government, which considers all marijuana use illegal.
“We don’t want that to occur here,” Thiele said. “You don’t encourage people to hang out in the local pharmacy.”
As I’ve already stated, I think marijuana should be legal for adult use without qualification, so I don’t really go along with the “unhealthy promotion of medical use” line. But for people who do, I think the plans as stated confirm their suspicions.
I think there’s a growing consensus that the War on Drugs has been a miserable failure, and in particular that penalizing marijuana use is a silly, counterproductive policy. While I certainly share my pal’s qualms with Ron Paul, I wholeheartedly endorse his views on ending our current drug policy. I like to think that his strength in the polls is in some way a reflection that the public is coming to share this view (though in reality it’s probably more a reflection that Paul is neither named Mitt Romney nor patently insane). However, until there is a clearer move toward decriminalization of marijuana use in general, places like the planned center in Portland may hurt more than help.