CRIS Marijuana Panel Attracts Crowd

This article originally appeared in ZU News.

One of the more controversial topics at a Christian school is marijuana use. Its legalization for recreational use in California as of last year caused concern for Louise Huang, the director of the Center for Research in Science (CRIS).

Huang decided to do something to educate the APU community by organizing a panel discussion that took place on April 6 in Segerstrom 162. More than 100 students and guests attended to listen to the advice and expertise of three panel members.

“When the proposition passed, I was very concerned. I feel like APU can do more than just be on the sideline,” Huang said. “I feel like as a Center for Research and Science, we can truly be an asset to the community. Offering talks like this, we can bring awareness, [shed light] and maybe even [bring] understanding [to] a very difficult topic.”

The panel members were: Nancy Buckley, Ph.D., a professor and cannabinoid researcher at Cal Poly Pomona, Jay Kiel, the senior deputy district attorney in Riverside county and Rico Vitz, Ph.D., the chair of the Department of Philosophy and a philosophy professor at Azusa Pacific.

Buckley spoke on the science and history of marijuana. She talked about how it was made illegal in the U.S. in 1937, how research on medical marijuana began in 1981 and how to understand the effects it has on people. She shared some of her research and answered questions from the crowd.

“It’s controversial whether marijuana is addictive at all. But it may encourage use of other drugs,” Buckley said. “However, if somebody is a chronic smoker, they will develop a tolerance to it.”

Buckley said that using marijuana in the early teen years can affect cognitive development and cause a lower IQ compared to those who did not use the drug. She said it is much less of a problem in adults.

“I personally voted no on Proposition 64 because I feel there has not been enough research done on it [marijuana],” Buckley said.

The second panel member, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jay Kiel, talked about the legality of marijuana. He said that it started in 1996 with the Compassion Use Act (CUA), which was the bill that started to allow use of medical marijuana with permission from a practicing physician in California only.

Then, seven years later in 2003, California Senate Bill 420 passed, which allowed medical marijuana sales through a person’s primary caregiver or a collective. Kiel said this was basically what started all the dispensaries around Los Angeles.

This was followed by Proposition 64, which passed on Nov. 8, 2016, with an approval vote of 57.13 percent to 42.87 percent. With this, marijuana became legal to use recreationally in California as of 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2016. It will start being legal for sale on Jan. 1, 2018, although this is not set in stone.

Kiel talked about how this would affect the medical marijuana industry. He said that recreational marijuana will be taxed in Los Angeles at 10 percent while the medical marijuana tax will be lower. According to Kiel, it will be much harder for people to get medical marijuana licenses now; they will have to go to their primary physician.

As a district attorney, Kiel spoke about some of the crimes he has seen in Riverside county. He cited one instance where a dispensary was robbed, the workers were tied up and “pistol whipped,” $250,000 in cash was stolen and several pounds of marijuana were taken. He said that there are many crimes that happen at dispensaries since it is a cash-only business.

However, these were not the crimes Kiel was most worried about. He said that the biggest concern was people driving under the influence (DUI) of the drug.

“Right now there is a lot of testing going on to find what we can do [for DUI situations]. It’s got a long way to go,” Kiel said. “It seems that we put the cart before the horse. We didn’t lay the framework for this situation.”

The last panel member, philosophy professor Rico Vitz, spoke about the ethics of marijuana use. He focused in on the point that just because it’s no longer illegal, it can still be considered immoral. He was adamant that legality and morality were not always hand-in-hand.

Vitz made sure to talk about what some people in the crowd had asked. He said that it’s true, nowhere in the Bible does it directly mention marijuana. Instead he said to think about what Christian tradition and heritage would suggest you do.

This question on marijuana in the Bible was one of many anonymous questions that students submitted online. Huang noted the significance of these.

“The questions that were submitted were very thoughtful. It reflects the concerns in the crowd,” Huang said. “There are real concerns going on and I think they are legitimate. Even though I may disagree with why they ask, I think it is good that they get a chance to ask experts.”

Huang began organizing the panel back in November. She said that CRIS plans on doing more panels instead of single-speaker lectures in the future. She is already brainstorming next year’s panel on cells and genetic engineering.