Marijuana…it’s complicated. The issue of whether or not to legalize marijuana in the U.S. for recreational or medical use – already legal in some states – has been a hot topic the past few years.

It’s beneficial for many medical purposes. It’s harmful to the developing brain. We must utilize the CBD compound instead of the THC. Marijuana contains 483 different compounds. Studies have shown that it may lead to schizophrenia.

With around 80 people in attendance, these were the arguments thrown throughout the room as the pendulum swung between advocates and adversaries of the legalization of marijuana.

Marijuana contains 483 different compounds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Marijuana contains 483 different compounds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A panel of speakers including Amy Ronshausen, Adriaan Buma, Andrew Hano and Louise Buhrmann discussed the merits and drawbacks of legalizing marijuana at the seventh annual St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs held on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. At their panel titled “Do like the Canadians; Legalize pot,” the group shared their opinions to members of the community who came to hear the program among the 30 others held at the conference over the span of three days.

Florida voters approved the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative in November 2016. The law, Amendment 2, permits the use of medical marijuana by Floridians with debilitating illnesses.

“It doesn’t seem fair for the public to be burdened by decisions that should be made by doctors and scientists,” said Iqbal Paroo, who was the moderator for the panel and has over 30 years of experience in the health industry and international leadership.

Buhrmann, a former practicing psychiatrist who specialized in addictions and eating disorders and is now a mental health advocate, believes legal marijuana would be detrimental to American society.

“Studies have shown that people with anxiety don’t get better with marijuana use,” Buhrmann said. “Scarce results have come back for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia is actually increasing as high levels of cannabis use can turn on the switch in our brains for the disease.”

However, Buhrmann said she would be willing to accept legalization if, when being marketed, marijuana products displayed its health risks and was age restricted. Preferably after the age of 25, she said, for that is when the brain finishes development.

Nodding his head in agreement, Buma, a public health physician who served in the Netherlands Navy for 38 years, took the stage. With this policy already implemented in the Netherlands, he is the only panelist who has seen some of the effects of legalization first hand.

“As the Netherland people get older, they really do not care much for it,” Buma said. “By the age of 30, only two percent use marijuana.”

In regards to teenagers, Buma said, “they will use it no matter what we do. Let’s give them a chance to try it and it will then blow over.”

Buma argued that if America were to adopt the same policy as the Netherlands, marijuana would become less attractive due to its accessibility. However, Buma cited the need for continued research into the side effects of the drug.  

Ronshausen, executive director of both the Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society from Drugs disagrees that the drug should be legal. Ronshausen believes this policy would be a grave decision for America and many lives could be at stake.

“Drug use impacts all of us,” Ronshausen said. “There isn’t a single drug you can use that will only impact yourself.”

Hano, a local hematologist and medical oncologist who practiced in Pinellas County for 32 years, agrees marijuana should be legalized.

“Marijuana definitely has a place of usefulness,” Hano said. “When used the right way, marijuana has its benefits.” He then drew a parallel between the negative public opinion of marijuana use versus the lessened criticism of tobacco and alcohol products.

“If all three were new today, and we knew nothing about their effects, I would think that marijuana would have the best chance of getting legalized,” Hano said.

All four panelists explained in agreement that the tobacco and alcohol industry is too massive to shut down. But, if marijuana can accrue enough income, it too can become legal.


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