Lazy. Unmotivated. Head-in-the-clouds. Those are some of the adjectives that might come to mind when thinking about a stoner — if, of course, you don't know many stoners.
Long tired of carrying that Reefer Madness-era stigma, the Colorado Springs cannabis community is on a crusade to correct misconceptions by getting out, doing good and making sure it's noticed.
Led by the 6-month-old Cannabis Patient Rights Coalition, the campaign is at once educational, promotional and philanthropic. (On the rec side, the cannabis clubs are in hot water again with the city — follow ongoing coverage in our weekly pages — but will continue to support medical activists.)
The educational piece takes the form of regular town hall meetings at public libraries in the area. Turnout is modest (around 10 people, mostly over 50, usually show up), but the impact is impressive. They're led by Bridget Seritt, a patient who's taken courses in endocannabinoid therapy.
"Most of the general public thinks that lighting a joint is medical cannabis use, like a Cheech and Chong movie," she says, "So really, we're there to correct some misunderstandings."
Misunderstandings do abound at the outset of these town halls, she says, especially when it comes to dosing. For those familiar exclusively with recreational use, the idea that someone would need more than 12 plants (the limit under local law) seems like overkill or a cover for black market sales. But for a patient regularly dosing extracted oils, 12 sometimes doesn't cut it.
The public needs to understand things like that, Seritt says, as well as the actual effects of medical cannabis.
"A lot of people think patients are just getting high all day, but it actually just keeps people functioning," she explains, adding with a touch of exasperation, "and you can't get high from the smell. People seem to think that smelling it from next door means it's getting in their system. It's not."
Seritt feels the town halls have been productive. Curious newcomers often leave with more compassion for medical marijuana users and, sometimes, a desire to partake themselves.
In addition to the public education campaign, cannabis activists' philanthropy has ramped up. Over recent months, CPRC founding member Aisha Sawyer — a patient herself, whose daughter uses cannabis oil rather than chemotherapy to keep her cancer at bay — has helped organize giveaway drives for the homeless community. Over six monthly "Canna Help the Community" events, CPRC has collected and distributed around 1,350 meals and 4,500 pounds of clothes and toiletries, working with Project Pay It Forward, then with Because We Choose To, both local charity organizations.
These efforts aren't just for the good press.
"We feel a deep connection with these people because it's a human right to be able to just live," she says.
Sawyer thinks that limited park hours, the public camping ban and sit-lie ordinance are all legislative "attacks" on poor people's ability to live freely. She sees the city's cannabis policy as another attack on poor people's quality of life.
"The clubs were a refuge for people who can't afford med cards to get access to medicine, and [Council] closed them down," she says. "Limiting home grows hurts poor people who can't afford to shop at dispensaries."
She adds that the proposed permanent moratorium or cap on marijuana business licensing will also drive prices up.
The perception that legalization has brought an influx of homeless people begs for a more holistic understanding, Sawyer says.
"It's not that cannabis itself is the problem," she says. "No, no, no. A lot of homeless people are [homeless] because they're addicted to opioids. Cannabis can help them get off, so some people come here to partake. But then there aren't enough jobs for them because it'll show up in a pee test.
"We need a system that embraces and supports people, and other states need to do it too so the pressure can come off Colorado."
CPRC, which is also engaged in a statewide lawsuit challenging municipal plant limits, will be reorganizing in the coming weeks. Don't expect the group's philanthropy to disappear entirely, but do expect policy battles to take center stage in months to come.
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