Marijuana, Morning Sickness and the Fallout From Researchers Playing Spy

Marijuana, Morning Sickness and the Fallout From Researchers Playing Spy
Thinkstock file photo
In recent weeks, Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division has issued two industry-wide bulletins prompted by "reports of licensees making recommendations for pregnancy-related morning sickness." And while pioneering marijuana attorney Brian Vicente is urging his clients to heed the MED's new focus on conversations between dispensary staffers and customers, he sees a broader problem.

"It's important at a base level that people have access to medical marijuana and are able to work with their doctors to treat their current medical conditions," Vincente says. "But I think everybody can agree that we need more robust testing at the federal level to get more accurate descriptions of treating medical conditions with medical marijuana."

Vicente isn't an especially big fan of the report, released by Denver Health in May, that spurred the MED's latest actions. He characterizes it as a "pseudo-study."

Specifically, two women working with Denver Health researchers pretended to be eight weeks pregnant and suffering from morning sickness during phone calls to 400 dispensaries across Colorado. According to the resulting data, 69 percent of pot-shop personnel suggested that the women use marijuana to address their morning sickness, even though there's scientific consensus that cannabis consumption during pregnancy can negatively affect a child's cognitive skills, among other things.

click to enlarge Denver Health conducted the controversial undercover study. - FILE PHOTO
Denver Health conducted the controversial undercover study.
File photo
In Vicente's view, this methodology "raises the issue of Denver Health not having anything better to do than having their researchers lie to budtenders. I think there's a credibility issue there."

Still, Vicente feels that the findings "ultimately highlight an important issue, which is that budtenders and those answering the phones at cannabis stores shouldn't be giving medical advice. It's not their job. They're not trained for it."

This point is underscored by the MED bulletins, put out under the signature of division director James Burack.

The documents, both accessible below, announce a change in language required on labels affixed to cannabis products. Through June 31, the labels must include this sentence: "There may be additional health risks associated with the consumption of this product for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning on becoming pregnant." Beginning on July 1, however, the text has been expanded to read, "There may be long term physical or mental health risks from use of marijuana, including additional risks for women who are or may become pregnant or are breastfeeding. Use of marijuana may impair your ability to drive a car or operate machinery."

click to enlarge Brian Vicente co-authored Amendment 64, the 2012 measure that legalized limited recreational marijuana sales. - FACEBOOK
Brian Vicente co-authored Amendment 64, the 2012 measure that legalized limited recreational marijuana sales.
But in the wake of the public-relations hit that followed the Denver Health analysis, Colorado officials are equally concerned about what staffers are saying. Hence this warning from the bulletins: "Licensees (including owners, managers, and employees of medical and retail marijuana businesses) making health or benefit claims to consumers or otherwise communicating information that is prohibited from being advertised or displayed on labels affixed to Containers of Retail and Medical Marijuana, Concentrate and Product may be viewed by the Division as an attempt to evade marketing, advertising, and/or labeling requirements, resulting in recommendation for administrative action."

The change isn't a huge one, in Vicente's opinion. "This was not allowed previously," he points out. "But I guess the state felt the need to clarify that it extends to verbal communications, not just labeling."

Dispensary workers and owners "don't want to be making claims about medical efficacy," he stresses. "Those conversations should happen between a doctor and a patient."

In the meantime, Vicente encourages clinicians to focus more on establishing marijuana's medical value than on playing spy. "Everybody agrees cannabis has efficacy," he says, "but there's still a world of research to be done there."

Click to read the May marijuana industry bulletin about reports of licensees making recommendations about pregnancy-related morning sickness and the June update.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts