Talking medical marijuana

February 04, 2006

Sara Watson Arthurs, Times-Standard

More research is needed on medical marijuana, and Humboldt State University might be just the place to do it, said Dr. Rebecca Stauffer, director of student health and counseling, Saturday afternoon.

Stauffer was part of a panel discussion on medical marijuana held as part of the higher education track of workshops at the North Coast Education Summit at HSU. About 45 people attended.

Moderator Sally Botzler, education professor at HSU, said the purpose was to have a dialogue rather than a debate -- that is, participants should listen to each another's perspectives rather than try to convince each other that their view is the only right one. The event, which also included time for audience comments, continued in a civil manner.

Jesse Goplen, a student at HSU, shared his own experience as a medical marijuana user. Goplen said he'd tried prescription medications for his panic attacks but found that they didn't help and had side effects that left him feeling “zombified.” Marijuana, by contrast, helped relieve the panic attacks, he said. Goplen said he uses a vaporizer rather than smoking his marijuana.

”I've seen a lot of people who've really been helped by cannabis,” he said.

HSU President Rollin Richmond said he believes medical marijuana law “provides an excuse” for people who want to use the drug recreationally. Richmond, a geneticist by training, said different people's bodies respond differently to the same substance.

”You need to be very careful about what drugs you put in your body, because you don't know how you're going to react to them,” he said. Richmond said he believes marijuana should be legalized and taxed, like alcohol is.

Arcata City Councilman Dave Meserve also said marijuana should be legal. He said marijuana-related crime, like thefts, have to do with the high black market value of the drug.

”It really is a victimless crime to use marijuana,” he said. Dr. Denver Nelson said doctors can prescribe marinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, as a medication but the medical marijuana recommendations aren't really prescriptions. Nelson said marijuana should be legalized and treated like alcohol -- OK for adults to use in their own homes.

”But don't drive, don't give it to your kids and don't call it a medicine, because it's really not,” he said.

Mike Goldsby, who teaches addiction studies at College of the

Redwoods, said marijuana can cause problems for some people.

”While many people experience marijuana as a benign substance, many other people do not,” Goldsby said.

He said he sees legitimate medical uses of marijuana, but that some of the “long list of ailments” for which it can be recommended seem inappropriate.

Stauffer said HSU has higher rates of students reporting daily marijuana use than other campuses, and that students themselves report that high numbers of days using marijuana correspond to lower grades or dropping out of school. Stauffer said she's particularly concerned about those who use the drug daily, as many students have reported, since a person's brain is still developing until they're 25 years old. She said she some students might be “taking marijuana as a coping mechanism” for minor problems.

Attorney Greg Allen spoke on the legal aspects of medical marijuana law. He said that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors passed “a pretty decent ordinance” specifying how much marijuana can be grown or possessed by any individual, but it only applies to unincorporated areas of the county, with local cities under different guidelines.

In response to audience questions, the panel briefly discussed HSU's marijuana policy. Richmond said a student found in possession of marijuana would have the marijuana confiscated. Allen said this gives patients who use medical marijuana fewer rights than patients using other types of medicine.


Sara Watson Arthurs covers education and health. She can be reached at 441-0514 or

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