Last Thursday evening I gave a talk on cannabis at my university for Brain Health Awareness Week. I had an opportunity to speak alongside two colleagues – both distinguished researchers, while I am a clinician. My work is with patients and while I facilitate research as much as I can, it is not my strength. The questions from the audience afterwards were primarily for my colleagues. I had one or two questions, but ever since I’ve been speaking about cannabis to public audiences, I’ve come to realize that no one asks their most important questions about marijuana in public. I mean, would you? Especially since the questions that most people have for an experienced clinician are related to experience. Legal or not, questions related to personal marijuana use – or your kid’s marijuana use – still raise eyebrows.

So, picture me last Thursday evening. The crowd has started to file out of the auditorium to mingle at the reception outside. I am not paying a lot of attention as I gather my papers and shove them into my briefcase. When I look up, a line of about 10 people has gathered – all ages, looking around nervously, not catching anyone else’s eye. The first person in line moves toward me tentatively and says something in a voice almost too soft to hear and I lean forward to catch the question. I move away from the line, about ten feet away, urging the first person to come and sit in the front row with me to ask their question. I say to everyone else, “Just take a seat in line – I’ll make sure you all have a chance to speak with me.”

Visibly relaxing, everyone sits down. They all settle apart from each other, however, giving themselves space for their personal reverie and likely their personal worries. In the next half hour, if you could listen to the questions people have, you would learn why the integration of legal cannabis into life in North America is not going to be easy. We are still too embarrassed by cannabis use, our own and that of our children and friends and family, to be able to ask reasonable questions of an expert in public. This means that it will be a long time before we can have an informed dialogue about marijuana, a discussion that makes it possible to speak about the risks and the pleasures that are part of cannabis consumption. If we could have this dialogue, we would be able to enjoy using cannabis – as we enjoy a glass of wine or chocolate cake or any of the other things we consume that are not really “good” for us, but that fulfill some of our desires in their own unique fashion.

When I contemplate the questions people ask me privately after a talk about cannabis, I know the answers and the dialogue would benefit everyone. I know that we could learn from each other and that cannabis would be more safely introduced into our lives.

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