Community discusses marijuana at town hall meeting

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Robert Ashford, president of Eagle Peer Recovery at the University of North Texas; drug addiction psychiatrist William Holcomb Jr. and Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, raise their hands to indicate they are Texans at a town hall meeting on marijuana legalization March 6. Photo by Daniel Carde

Robert Ashford, president of Eagle Peer Recovery at the University of North Texas; drug addiction psychiatrist William Holcomb Jr. and Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, raise their hands to indicate they are Texans at a town hall meeting on marijuana legalization March 6. Photo by Daniel Carde

Health care researcher explains what marijuana addiction looks like.

By Cassandra M. Rodriguez

crodriguez@student.alamo.edu 

A town hall meeting of outspoken community members discussed Texas legalizing marijuana March 6 at Texas A&M University San Antonio.

The meeting left standing room only in the auditorium at the college’s Brooks City-Base location and filled two additional rooms with people watching a live feed.

Four panelists, two pro-legalization and two anti-legalization, answered questions.

Pro-legalization panelists were Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, and William Holcomb Jr., drug addiction psychiatrist.

Anti-legalization panelists were Jennifer Sharpe Potter, assistant dean for research and student programs at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Robert Ashford, president of Eagle Peer Recovery at the University of North Texas.

“This meeting is about you. We want to know what’s on your mind,” moderator Mark Hyman said. “It’s really about getting questions asked and answered.”

“Keep it a peaceful and smart discussion about this topic. It’s an important topic for the community and state,” said Mandi Mendoza, WOAI assistant news director.

Hyman began by asking the crowd to applaud if they believed the war on drugs has failed. The crowd responded with a thunderous applause. Hyman shared a question from the audience asking what addiction looks like?

“There is a physical dependence,” Potter said. “It will interfere with social and occupational functioning.”

Kampia said the Marijuana Policy Project plans for future legalization so it can be used for medical and recreational purposes.

Potter said, as a health care researcher, if someone is developing a problem, there will be unintended consequences and some people will have difficulty stopping.

Ashford added there is currently not enough support to help young adults who become addicted.

If marijuana is legalized, Potter said she hopes that revenue from taxes is set aside to help people who become addicted.

“We shouldn’t punish or incarcerate those people and they won’t seek help because it’s illegal,” Holcomb said.

Potter said, if there is a benefit to using marijuana it should be understood and distributed safely.

“You can’t silence News 4 viewers,” said Emily Baucum, the town hall meeting’s social media reporter. She followed live Facebook and Twitter feeds from viewers who were unable to attend the meeting. Viewers were curious to know if anyone has ever died from marijuana.

“No one has ever died from marijuana and it’s so much safer than alternatives such as Xanax,” Holcomb said responding to concerns from the audience about relieving pain with marijuana for medical reasons.

“What is the big deal about legalizing marijuana when alcohol and tobacco kill people?” community member Deedee Dukes asked the panel.

“I would like to see it regulated like alcohol and tobacco,” Holcomb said.

Kampia said, “It’s true that marijuana is safer than alcohol.”

Nick Lerma, community member and former Marine, asked, “What is being done to differ between medical and recreational usage?”

“We don’t know enough about marijuana. There needs to be more research for understanding it and treatment for those who develop problems,” Potter said.

The 90-minute meeting limited the amount of time and people who could ask questions and voice opinions. The majority of the engaged audience thought marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes while others questioned the effects of legalized marijuana.

View complete footage of the marijuana meeting at www.news4sanantonio.com and search marijuana. For more information on the Marijuana Policy Project visit www.mpp.org/states/texas/.

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