Marijuana dominated the discussion Tuesday night during the Eastern Oregon Forum, one year after it became legal to sell and grow in Pendleton.
But the panel consensus at Blue Mountain Community College was that more information is needed about the drug to determine its effects — both positive and negative.
Brandon Krenzler, owner of Kind Leaf dispensary and the Burnswell Family Farms grow site, said that business has been good because Pendleton is an “oasis in an otherwise dry county.”
He noted that the industry has brought more than 40 jobs to Pendleton and marijuana-related employment is expected to increase nationwide to 250,000 jobs by 2020. The industry has also added more than $130,000 in tax revenue to Pendleton since shops opened.
Krenzler said he is not worried about a federal crackdown on the burgeoning industry because tax dollars are helping fill municipal coffers and public opinion now favors legalization.
“I don’t think anybody should be afraid of (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions,” he said.
Steve Hardin, manager of emergency services at St. Anthony Hospital, said the two most common cannabis-related emergency room visits have been for anxiety issues and cyclical vomiting.
Anxiety issues brought on by marijuana use are often temporary and shouldn’t require an emergency room visit, but Hardin said sufferers who do go to the hospital are given anti-anxiety medication.
St. Anthony has also seen increased numbers of cannabinoid-induced cyclic vomiting, though Hardin noted the syndrome is not well known and better information is needed to understand the problem.
Hardin said the substances that cause the most health problems in the area, in order, are: tobacco, unhealthy food, alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. He said an emergency room employee has never been assaulted by anyone using marijuana, which does happen when people have ingested too much alcohol or other drugs or are having a mental health crisis.
David Conant-Norville, a child and adolescent psychologist who works out of Hillsboro and Pendleton, said his doctors are seeing much more open discussion about cannabis both in adolescents and adults. He said that marijuana does damage growing brains, but a lack of research hampers the medical community.
“Docs really feel more pressure now than ever to prescribe cannabis as a therapeutic agent,” he said.
Yet, because solid scientific literature on marijuana is so scarce, doctors are hesitant to give straight answers — to tell patients to use or to refrain.
“Our frustration is we don’t know what to do,” he said.
Conant-Norville said he has seen some benefits from legalization, including that the quality of cannabis is better so users know what they are getting, as well as medicinal use as a pain control, to combat sleep issues, nausea and anxiety. He also said legalization has helped keep users out of the criminal justice system, which is a benefit to them and society.
Yet the lack of information is something that all three hope changes soon.
“The ability to run through good clinical trials ... is information we need,” said Conant-Norville.