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Legalization and normalization – A personal perspective

In my last column for CBE (https://cbetotal.wpengine.com/2017/05/when-abnormal-is-the-norm/), I wrote about the normalization of cannabis as it relates to operating a business in the cannabis industry. Today I want to address the same topic from a much more personal perspective.

I have been using cannabis for my entire adult life, and its impact has been overwhelmingly positive. Cannabis has opened my mind, helped cement lifelong friendships, helped me to develop spiritually and healed me when I’ve been sick.

When cannabis has had a negative impact on my life, a closer look usually reveals that it was not cannabis, but rather cannabis prohibition, that caused the problem.

In late 2003, I became ill with an undiagnosed gastrointestinal condition that persisted for nearly ten years. During that time, I threw up every day—sometimes as often as 30-40 times each day. I’m better now, but despite visits to literally hundreds of doctors and healers, nobody ever figured out what was wrong with me.

I obtained my Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) card in 2006, so I have been legally consuming and growing cannabis for myself and other patients for 11 years. Despite my status as a legal consumer and grower, I continued to keep my use and cultivation of cannabis a secret from most people I encountered for quite a while. Only when we decided to open a dispensary in 2013 did I stop keeping my secret and come out to the broader world.

I am not ashamed of my use of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, and I honestly never have been.  Nor have I ever been ashamed of the fact that I grow this plant for myself and others. But I mostly kept this information private – at first because I feared the legal repercussions, but later, when that became less of an issue, because of the social repercussions. I didn’t want my family to become unfairly stigmatized by ignorant folks with outdated views of what constitutes medicine and/or fun.

My son is seven, so I have had my OMMP card for his entire life. That means I didn’t have to face the terrifying prospect of losing my child that many cannabis users continue to grapple with to this day. Imagine having to choose between your children and the medicine that keeps you alive. Talk about an impossible choice.

But as our son got older, my wife Meghan and I knew that he would soon be going to school and that we would have to navigate the reality of our occupation as we interacted with the public school system. How much would we share about cannabis? With whom? When?

Everything that we were doing was perfectly legal, but the normalization process lagged far beyond where we are today, even in Oregon.  Meghan and I wanted very much to be engaged parents, to participate in school and classroom activities, to get to know the other parents and children. The tagline we use for our company, Pure Green, is “cultivating community.” We wanted to cultivate our son’s academic community as well.

If we couldn’t participate in that community the way we wanted to, it wouldn’t have been because of cannabis. It wouldn’t even have been directly attributable to cannabis prohibition, since we were operating legally under the OMMP. It would have been the remnants of prohibition, the lack of normalization, that marginalized us.

Fortunately for us, Oregon expanded the OMMP to allow dispensaries before our son reached public school. Equally fortunate, the normalization process is further along here in Oregon than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

By the time our son reached kindergarten, we had several parents from his school who already shopped at our dispensary. Over time, even more members of his school community – parents, teachers, staff – have become our customers.  We have donated a Pure Green gift certificate to the school auction two years in a row, and it has been a hot commodity both times. We are perceived by most of the other parents as relatively normal, at least with regard to our livelihood.

The legalization of cannabis represents a major victory for sanity and common sense.  It is a social change of generational significance that will improve our world in many ways, large and small.

But legalization is only one part of the equation – an important part, no doubt, but legalization alone leaves the job half done. Moving forward we also need to normalize cannabis so that folks who want to use cannabis, either recreationally or medically, suffer no more stigmatization than those who drink a cocktail in the evening or take an aspirin for a headache.

Matt WalstatterMatt Walstatter

Matt Walstatter

Matt Walstatter and his wife, Meghan, are the owners of Pure Green, a patient owned and operated dispensary in Portland, Oregon. They have jointly owned and operated cultivation centers since 2001. Their dispensary opened in 2013. Matt can be reached at (971) 242-8561 or [email protected]

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