The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
As chair of the Pima County Community Prevention Coalition, I wanted to address the recent legalization of personal possession and/or use of marijuana by those over the age of 21. It is important to note that the proposition focused on the state’s need for criminal justice reform and individuals with substance misuse disorder being engulfed by impacts of the criminal justice system in ways that reduce one’s ability to tackle the root issues that lead to substance misuse disorder. While it did cite facts about marijuana that could be argued by health advisors, I personally feel that campaign and the people of Arizona focused on the former issue noted here.
So what does the legalization of limited personal possession and/or use of marijuana mean for preventionists?
As the Community Prevention Coalition continues to educate on the harmful effects of marijuana and other substances, we have also increased the messaging in the community about respectful language around those with substance misuse disorder, focusing on the effects of historical trauma and its physical health impacts that can lead to substance misuse disorder. We have called on the community to be understanding, patient and embrace those with substance misuse disorder. It’s not too far off from the messaging around Proposition 207, and while our ideas on the best policies to get there may not entirely align, we must focus on our common beliefs.
A belief that people who misuse substances do not do so without a number of health issues (physically, psychologically, emotionally) getting them to a place of desperately looking for relief; and that as a society it is our duty to help resolve those root issues through love, care, and kindness. The proposition itself (through its funding streams) agrees with us that we can only do so by continuing to ensure that every child gets access to a fully funded quality education that includes a health curriculum in Arizona with substance misuse prevention written into the core of that curriculum.
Access to healthcare for everyone is extremely important. It requires day-to-day care that includes physical, mental, and emotional support for anyone and everyone, regardless of their ability to pay up to and including treatment of substance misuse disorder. It must also include the ability for us as a community to embrace our diversity, and to provide cultural competency training of all responders: first, second and all of those that follow up.
Legalization does not have to be an endorsement of regular use, and it is our job as preventionists to ensure the education of the harmful effects of substance misuse continues on into tomorrow, in the most respectful means possible. Whether it is alcohol, e-cigarettes, marijuana, or a number of other substances, it is our duty to be proactive and ensure everyone understands the issues that lead to substance misuse disorder, and the policies and practices that can prevent it.
We haven’t lost anything, we’ve simply gained further perspective. I look forward to working with others in our community to respect and save the lives of our fellow neighbors and human beings, one message at a time.
Paul Lovelis is chair of the Community Prevention Coalition.
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