Iowa legislators have been discussing the legalization of medical marijuana for several years. The Alliance of Coalitions for Change, a statewide network aimed at reducing substance abuse, is bringing that conversation to Spencer on Oct. 31.
"It may not be in the legislature this year, but it's coming," Mary Sloan, prevention supervisor and consultant at Compass Pointe Behavioral Health Services, said. "The constituency needs to be informed."
"The Blunt Truth About Medical Marijuana Symposium" will begin at 9:30 a.m. at Compass Pointe and will feature Dr. Christian Thurstone.
"This man has been watching and observing and collecting data about what has happened since they legalized medical marijuana in Colorado," Sloan said of the medical director of the Substance Abuse Treatment, Education and Prevention Program at Denver Health and Hospital Authority. "He's up and close and personal with this."
Thurstone will kick off the symposium by talking about "Colorado and the effects of legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes." Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy Associate Director Dale Woolery and Clay County investigator Casey Timmer will share a statewide and local perspective before Thurstone follows up with a talk about the "health effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain." A roundtable discussion and question-and-answer session will conclude the forum.
Sloan said the purpose of the symposium is to provide counterpoints to information presented by groups in favor of marijuana legalization.
"People need to look at the facts, not just from the people who say, 'Legalize it and get it over with because it's not harmful anyway,'" Sloan said. "That's an easy way out. We're a society that tolerates anything. Your tax dollars, insurance dollars and law enforcement dollars pay for this because marijuana does impair people."
While Sloan acknowledges marijuana-related impairment is vastly different than alcohol-related impairment, she also points out that it is dangerous to operate motor vehicles while using the substance.
"The difference is it focuses attention," Sloan said. "When you focus attention when you're driving, you focus right in front of your car, meaning you're not seeing the person in front of me or to the side because you're focused in one area. That's a huge piece."
Effects on adolescents and brain development are also concerns of the AC4C.
"When marijuana is available medically, we see an increase in youth use," Sloan said. "Research out right now shows people who have used marijuana regularly -- at least once a week -- lose eight IQ points by their early 30s. Those eight points are not gained back.
"That's a sad thing," Sloan continued. "We don't want our kids using. The more we legalize marijuana, the more access there is."
Sloan also says that individuals who claim marijuana is not addictive are not considering all the factors.
"It's going to be a different rate for everybody. We all have different biological risks in terms of addiction," Sloan said, referencing how other substances such as alcohol affect individuals differently.
Sloan hopes individuals, regardless of their position, will be open to the information presented.
"We can listen to both sides of the argument so we can make an educated decision," Sloan said.
The symposium is open to anyone in the 10 northwest Iowa counties served by Compass Pointe. Individuals are encouraged to register by Thursday if they plan to eat lunch at the symposium. Registration may be completed online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/nwiablunttruth, by email at email@example.com or by phone at 262-4381.