Higher Ground: Building bridges to medical marijuana

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When Fox 2 news anchor Anqunette Jamison had a setback with her multiple sclerosis last winter, she took a medical leave that eventually morphed into a retirement announced two weeks ago. Her retirement made waves because she also announced that she would be working with MI Legalize on a petition initiative intended to place the question of legalizing marijuana for recreational use on the Michigan ballot in 2018 when we vote for our next governor.

It was a surprise move to most of us. It's not every day that highly visible news anchors out themselves as medical marijuana patients. And to say that she is joining the fight to legalize marijuana is almost unheard of.

Well ... we did hear something similar about two years ago. That's when a TV news reporter in Alaska, Charlo Greene, revealed on air that she is a proponent of marijuana legalization and that she owns a dispensary. Then, abruptly, Greene said, "Fuck it, I quit," and walked off camera.

"I refused to do that," says Jamison, whose friends and family have responded positively to her cannabis use. "I may need these bridges later."

There may be something to that line of thought. After Greene's revelation, a series of undercover operations and raids at her cannabis club resulted in several charges of "misconduct involving a controlled substance." After dropping an F-bomb on television she probably doesn't have much sympathy from authorities in the state.

In contrast, Jamison has already begun building bridges for the legalization crowd. Her retirement announcement also came on-air with an extended interview during which she discussed her illness, her use of cannabis, and why she will work to make recreational cannabis legal. The polished, well informed, and well-dressed media professional immediately put a new face on the legalization issue, which sometimes is not the most diplomatic when debating opponents.

On top of that, Jamison is African-American. There are few enough blacks who are willing to stick their necks out on the issue due to fear of attracting police attention. It's been well noted that while most ethnic groups use marijuana at similar rates, people of color are arrested and jailed for it at much higher rates than whites. That's something Jamison has noted.

"Across the country people are getting locked up and getting their lives ruined over this," she says. "I had no idea what was happening with this incarceration issue. Becoming a patient opened my eyes to a world that I really didn't even know existed; and I think I'm a very informed person. I believed what I was taught about drugs — just say no."

She's been learning plenty of new things and making changes since she was diagnosed with MS in 2013. At first she continued to work, although that got harder and harder. The news anchor experienced memory lapses, headaches, and nausea so bad she was hospitalized for it three times. She took Adderall, anti-nausea drugs, and muscle relaxants — pills every day and injections every other day. Each pill came with a different side effect, and there were more pills for that. Jamison says her prescriptions cost $70,000 a year. And she still felt sick most of the time.

"I was dragging myself out of bed and taking a lot of pills for a shortened work day," she says. "I'd drive home and get in bed, when I was not throwing up. My husband suggested I just try cannabis. I tried it. After the first puff I realized I had been lied to, or misinformed at the very least.

"The strain that made me stop taking 80 milligrams of Adderall each day is Gorilla Glue."

Gorilla Glue is a sativa dominant hybrid with about 26 percent THC and less than 1 percent CBD. The strain won an award at the 2014 Michigan Cannabis Cup.

For her nausea, "Nothing is as quick and efficient as two puffs from my vaporizer," says Jamison, who reports that someone hit the vaporizer while sitting in front of her at the Fox Theatre during the Republican debate last spring.

That's where the cannabis movement is right now, where openly vaping at a Republican debate doesn't cause a stir. A recent poll indicated that 63 percent of Americans believe it should be legalized. That means it's becoming OK for public figures to stick their necks out on the issue. If strong poll numbers were correct, voters in California — the sixth largest economy in the world — legalized recreational marijuana yesterday.

Jamison wants to see recreational legalization in Michigan. The news woman in her has led to research on the facts of the subject. While she is a medical user, her research has broadened her acceptance of cannabis use beyond that. She finds a few puffs of marijuana as more or less equivalent to having a glass of wine.

"My experience was different than what I was taught," she says.

But it's what she has learned that fires her up for the legalization effort. The government scheduling that says marijuana has no "medicinal use" is just contrary to how she treats her MS symptoms. The fact that the laws are not being enforced equally across racial lines, creating disruption in the black community, is another motivator for Jamison. And finally, she says that with legalization comes regulation. As a medical user, she wants to know what she is using is free of pesticides and other contaminants.

Not to mention, "We're missing a tremendous opportunity for tax revenue," she says. "We've got kids going to schools with books that are 20 years old and with mold growing on the walls. Colorado has millions of tax dollars that have gone to schools."

Colorado collected $135 million in marijuana sales tax dollars in 2015, of which $40 million went to schools according to a report on the Denver Channel. Part of that money funds an anti-bullying program and cannabis education.

All those numbers are good for arguing policies in the public forum. But what has made Jamison an anti-prohibition warrior is the effect cannabis has had on her life.

"I could not believe that a strain of cannabis could give you energy." She says. "I come home and want to crawl into bed. But with some Gorilla Glue, after 15 minutes I'm walking the dog or doing some laundry."

With her background in broadcast news and a network of media sources and relationships, Jamison could well be the most well-situated ambassador for marijuana in the state. At the very least, she is one of the voices for marijuana that has changed so drastically these past several years.

No youth increase

One of the most vibrant arguments against legalizing marijuana is the supposition that the number of young people using it will increase. You can put that one to rest. According to two different recently published studies, there was no increase in use by young people in states with liberalized cannabis laws. One, published online by the journal Substance Use & Misuse, reported the findings "failed to show a relationship between adolescents' use of marijuana and state laws regarding marijuana use."

The second study, reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found no changes over a nine-year period (2004 to 2013) with regard to the past-month prevalence of marijuana use by those ages 12 to 17 or by those between the ages of 18 and 25.

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