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Recently, I moderated a “Patient and Consumer Education Strategies” panel. My colleagues and I shared how we have built loyal consumer bases by providing a holistic view of cannabis consumption through education. One of my main messages during this discussion was that as leaders in this space, we consult to educate, and we educate to empower. Educated consumers can make more autonomous choices for themselves. In addition to this, an educated public typically leads to better policy. Not only does proper education keep people safe, it also empowers people and activates them within their local communities when it comes to policy.

Can we get more of the public interested in civics through their love of cannabis? I certainly hope so. Polls show that the public wants to use cannabis safely and intelligently, but there is more to it than that. Policymakers need to be better educated to create laws that allow for a wide variety of products, accessible entry into the market for entrepreneurs, and policy that serves the people, not profiteers.

Policy and Stigma

Cannabis education is critical in developing enlightened policies that will suit each state and serve the people living there. When I started as co-chair of the San Francisco State Legalization Taskforce, I was not surprised at how little my non-industry colleagues knew about cannabis. Still, I was astonished they didn’t seem to want to learn more and held tight to the lens of fear and stigma. Even my colleagues in public health seemed to feel safest clinging to an outdated view of cannabis, which is what they leaned on when creating educational campaigns geared to the public. Stigma like this can fuel policy that invites over taxation, lack of access, questionable laws and misinformation.

Policymakers need education from sources that are not profiting in order to create sound policies involving critical thought. One of the most common arguments is insufficient cannabis research to provide context for a less constricting approach. According to a NORML article, “In 2020, researchers worldwide published a record 3,500+ scientific papers on the subject of cannabis, according to data compiled by the National Library of Medicine and PubMed.gov…Since 2010, scientists have published over 23,000 peer-reviewed papers on cannabis.” This number is increasing every year.

Economic Growth

The cannabis industry is quickly becoming a global powerhouse. According to findings from BDSA, a leading market research provider, cannabis sales topped $21.3 billion in the United States alone in 2020 and are forecasted to reach $31 billion by the end of 2021, with an expectation of surpassing $62 billion by 2026. With such rapid growth, policymakers must keep abreast of what best practices have shown to work when creating policies for the cannabis industry. In my opinion, tax reductions and increased ease of entry for entrepreneurs are paramount for a thriving legal market. We are seeing companies folding because consumers want to forego paying taxes that can be upwards of 40 percent and pay less for similar products on the illicit market.

Just like cannabis itself is not a miracle cure-all, cannabis is not a cure-all for the financial woes of each state. It is an industry like any other, and though it can contribute significantly to creating job opportunities, supporting social programs and enriching the community, it is not a panacea that can fund state budgets through over taxation.

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Savvy Consumers

An educated public can lead to advocacy for sound policies and safer paths for experimentation with cannabis products while reducing stigma. Education evokes a new lens for savvy consumers to enjoy cannabis in a safe, enlightened manner. When establishing policies that support the consumer, we need to recognize that cannabis use is individualized. Sure, we can draw on our knowledge about how the majority of the population reacts to a particular product or cultivar to start the conversation, but there are always caveats.

Each individual responds differently to cannabis. There are no definite reactions to the different ways of using cannabis, cannabinoids counts or terpenoid profiles. It’s important to consider this when drafting new policies to ensure different modes of using cannabis and a dosage spectrum are available to serve the broadest population. When politicians and the public seek cannabis education, better policies can ensure public safety and satisfy savvy consumers.

Social Justice

Educated policymakers can create policy that enables safe access, social justice and viable opportunities for industry success. Whenever I lecture on cannabis history, it leads to deep conversations about dismantling systems of oppression. Understanding the history of injustice and discrimination, and recognizing that minorities are still disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses, is essential to create equitable policy. Learning the racist and capitalist backstory of cannabis prohibition inspires a realistic lens for keeping the cost of entry into the market low and creating incentives and initiatives to join the legal market rather than repeating the vicious cycle of incarceration.

Policymakers can help reduce discrimination by supporting accessible higher education opportunities to the BIPOC community that benefit entrepreneurs and people seeking work in cannabis. If we are serious about changing inequality, we need to start by offering better opportunities and more paths of support for traditionally disadvantaged people.

From my perspective, cannabis education benefits consumer empowerment, economic growth, social justice and public safety. It promotes a thoughtful approach to policy by broadening the lenses of policymakers and creating savvier, more civically involved consumers. With a deeper understanding of cannabis, policymakers can develop policies that positively impact those living in their states both now and the future.

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