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Op-ed: Working in a Mormon-owned marijuana shop made my anti-weed views more ... complicated

Published June 18, 2017 1:22 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Weed. As of two years ago, my mind had conjured up nothing but negative associations with the word. I have always been someone who likes to push at the edges, to think critically about whichever issue I have tackled—from the evolution of U.S. conservatism to Utah politics on same-sex marriage.

Circumstances once again forced me to re-examine my priorities when I was presented with a lucrative opportunity to work at a state-legalized and licensed cannabis company, while I was, in true millennial fashion, downsized out of my journalism job and broke.

After covering the 2014 Election, rare diseases, Comic-Con and serial killers, I suppose joining the marijuana industry was naturally the next item on the bucket list. I had no qualms about marijuana legalization in Oregon, given that the majority had voted for it.



This isn't a story about my acceptance of recreational use or the benefits of medical marijuana, as I still have reservations. However, my early, neatly-defined preconceptions of the drug have dissolved, replaced by a much grayer interpretation — and hopefully a more honest understanding.

I met my boss through my Mormon friend Stacie, while visiting home during the summer. It seemed out of place that my Mormon friend was asking me to help her with a drug business. The situation seemed more akin to a plot line from an HBO special than normal life.

But my friend's husband had started using medical marijuana after going through intensive surgery, hoping it would be a more viable long-term solution than Vicodin.

Her husband quickly perceived the financial potential of investing in the medical marijuana industry and now runs a very successful branch of the company.

But my previous exposure to the effects of marijuana had a much darker side. My uncle Tad died of a drug overdose—and smoking pot was his gateway drug to Oxycontin and heroin. He didn't use pot for medical or even occasional recreational purposes — it began as a longing for escape that eventually led to the hard drugs that killed him.

I was 12 when he died, and the event puzzled and consumed my mind as I thought about how and why Tad ended up there. I assumed that marijuana was to blame — a harbinger that pointed the way to the later heroin and meth. The middle school cultural messaging of DARE reinforced the narrative I constructed in my head.

Years later, however, we would discover that Tad's drug addiction stemmed from other causes.

His addictions and eventual death weren't as much the fault of an adolescent dalliance with marijuana, but his pot use was rather a mechanism to cope with certain incidents from the past.

Coming to terms with Tad's story became a type and shadow of future events I would encounter. I began to learn how to hold seemingly opposed ideals in my head — to balance between an instinct for self-soothing and a desire to uncover the truth, no matter how bleak or complex.

I still find myself frequently vacillating between the absolutist pro- and anti-pot arguments. Some days I thought I was furthering an innovative solution for aiding people in pain, as I helped implement marketing strategies and worked in production. Other moments, I thought of my uncle and others who became pot-heads and drug addicts.

Trimming strains of weed with names like Cherry Pie, Mango Kush and Purple God — names that sound more like rock bands than a professional medical product — made me think I am fooling myself.

But when I came to work each day beside my colleague, a suburban mom and active member of the PTA, I reconsidered again. Her best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, and medical marijuana was the only drug that alleviated her pain from chemotherapy. She often talked about creating an edible division called "Mamma J's" while rolling Critical Mass strains into joints.

Ultimately, I knew my weed situation would not be a permanent one. Nonetheless, it has challenged my assumptions and introduced a depth of thinking that I didn't foresee when I signed up to trim, garden and market cannabis.

Perhaps, I am learning, the key to discovering truths and dividing the shades of gray lies in living with and within contradiction.

Sara Jarman is the author of "Elephants on the Rampage: the Eclipse of American Conservatism." She was previously a journalist and online content manager for KSL.

 

 

 

 

 

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