MANKATO — A Colorado health official said Friday in Mankato that, if and when Minnesota legalizes marijuana, more revenue from sales should be steered toward prevention and treatment.
Doyle Forrestal, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, offered the advice at the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health addiction summit at the Mankato Civic Center. Her keynote afternoon address focused on lessons learned after the Rocky Mountain state became the first to fully legalize marijuana in the U.S. in 2014.
“If I had a magic wand and could rewind that, I’d want more dollars more specifically dedicated to alcohol and substance abuse treatment,” she told the group.
Colorado’s legalization created a huge pool of revenue, sparking debates on how to use it. Pre-legalization, the potential benefits to underfunded education systems proved popular with voters.
Tax revenue did also bolster treatment programs, but Forrestal suggested an even greater percentage of it would’ve helped. With such a focus on the opioid epidemic since then, Forrestal said the changed climate on how people view addictions might make treatment programs better positioned to tap into marijuana revenue.
“I think it’s opened people’s minds to the idea that it could impact all of us and it’s not a decision to be addicted or not be addicted,” she said.
The association which organized the summit, also known as MARRCH, currently has two lobbyists working on its behalf in the Twin Cities. Executive Director John Magnuson said mental health and substance abuse treatment providers will need to be heard as lawmakers weigh legalization.
“If the state is going to take an action of legalizing another addictive commercial product, we know more people are going to need services,” he said. “And therefore we need to ensure there are revenues to take care of helping those people access the treatment we know they’re going to have to have.”
Forrestal’s talk bookended a day of discussions at the summit on legalized marijuana and its potential public health impacts. She spoke on the subject through a policy lens, focusing on what Colorado lawmakers considered before and after legalization.
Other discussions went into legalized marijuana’s impacts on the treatment, law enforcement and health communities. MARRCH didn’t take a stance one way or another on whether legalized marijuana makes sense for the state, but organization President Dean Gilbertson said attendees seemed generally wary of a push to legalize the drug.
As the executive director of Mankato’s House of Hope, he said treatment providers see how drug abuse hurts individuals and families. Christy Barnett, also of House of Hope and a MARRCH regional governor, said professionals in the field will play key roles in educating the public on marijuana.
During a Q&A following Forrestal’s keynote, mental health professional and Minnesota State University assistant professor Thad Shunkwiler encouraged those in attendance to voice their concerns as legalization momentum grows. He said Minnesota will want to learn from states like Colorado if legalization momentum continues to grow.
“Whether I believe it’s a good idea or not, I at least want to be there when those conversations are had so we can weigh in and we can say if we’re going to do this can we at least take the lessons that Colorado and other states have learned,” he said.