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Lecture seeks to break misconceptions about medical marijuana

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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Dr. Kenneth Weinberg speaking about medical marijuana and its benefits at the Kinderhook Memorial Library.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Librarygoers asking questions during the Q&A session of a lecture about medical marijuana at the Kinderhook Memorial Library.
July 10, 2017 12:30 am

KINDERHOOK — Visitors to the Kinderhook Memorial Library were schooled on the history and myths surrounding medical marijuana Sunday by Dr. Kenneth Weinberg during a lecture entitled “Medical Marijuana: Weeding Out Fact from Fiction.”

Weinberg started the company Cannabis Doctors of New York with Dr. Neal Shipley and Dr. Oscar Marcilla when the Compassionate Care Act went into effect Jan. 7, 2016. The act allows healthcare providers to recommend medical marijuana to those with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and severe disability to alleviate their suffering, according to the Compassionate Care NY website.

The company has since seen over 200 patients in New York City, Weinberg said.

“We thought it was really important mostly to certified patients but also to really educate the public and the medical world,” Weinberg said.

Some of the eligible medical conditions that can benefit from medical marijuana use include Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and ALS, Weinberg said. Many of Weinberg’s patients who have suffered from Crohn’s and inflammatory bowel diseases use medical marijuana to alleviate the symptoms caused by those diseases, he said.

“They’re maxed out on the medicines, their quality of life is horrible and they are willing to do something like this,” Weinberg said. “They certainly aren’t doing it because they want to get high — they’re doing it because they hope that it may work and it does.”

Weinberg prefers to use the term “cannabis” as opposed to “marijuana” because it has been referred to as cannabis for 4,000 years, he said. From the 1800s through the 1930s, marijuana was used as part of many medications, he said.

“Nobody has ever overdosed from marijuana,” Weinberg said.

Marijuana received a negative image after newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger started vilifying the drug in the late 1930s, Weinberg said.

“He [Hearst] was trying to make a paper — hemp is cheaper and easier to make paper from,” Weinberg said. “To try to get that negative effect away, I think is really, really important.”

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana use, and registered organizations that have dispensaries where the marijuana is grown are Etain Health, Pharmacannis, Columbia Care, Vireo Health and MedMen, Weinberg said.

“Columbia Care, which is the main dispensary we have in Manhattan, they took over the Kodak plant in Rochester and that’s where they grow it,” Weinberg said.

The costs of medical marijuana in the state are high and Weinberg’s patients can pay anywhere from $50 to $400 a month, which is not covered by major health insurance providers, he said. In states where recreational marijuana use is legal, it helps to lower the cost of treatment for medical usage, Weinberg said.

“It can be expensive and I’ve had patients who after I saw them went back to the street and they couldn’t afford them,” Weinberg said.

Cannabis Doctors does not take a stand on recreational use of marijuana and is focused mainly on educating people on the drug’s medical aspects, Weinberg said.

“That’s a whole other conversation that I don’t even feel competent to talk about,” Weinberg said.

Marijuana is held to a higher standard, and Weinberg said it is one of the safest drugs that could be prescribed to a patient.

“Any time anything might go wrong with cannabis, people go, ‘Oh look at this that happened,’” Weinberg said. “Every drug that I prescribe has side effects and people can die from them.”

Weinberg has done six lectures about medical marijuana since last year. Weinberg, who owns a home in Old Chatham, finds that many people who come to the lectures are supportive of medical marijuana use and do not know much about medical marijuana and how it works, he said.

“Most of the people who come just want to know more,” Weinberg said. “It always engenders a lot of questions.”

Kinderhook village’s Economic Development Director Renee Shurr knows Weinberg and was trying to find a location to hold the lecture, but it was a hard sell due to the stigma surrounding marijuana, Kinderhook Memorial Library Director AnnaLee Giraldo said. The library having lectures like this can help combat misinformation and provide librarygoers with factual information, Giraldo said.

“I think it’s the perfect pairing with the library because the main problem with this subject matter, I think, is misinformation and stigmas — outdated stigmas,” Giraldo said. “To me, when she [Shurr] said she was facing some push back, I said, ‘But it’s legal — we’re not talking about something that’s illegal here.’”

Giraldo said she was pleased with the turnout. Giraldo told Weinberg that she would be happy to have the lecture again at a later date.

“Libraries are educational, but they’re also entertaining and informative,” Giraldo said. “This kind of program is, to me, the core of what we do.”

Gunter Bochem, of Kinderhook, is a friend of Weinberg’s and thought the lecture was informative.

“I’m glad there are these lectures around at the library,” Bochem said.

Bochem believes that medical marijuana can be helpful to people who are suffering from different diseases, he said.

“If it helps people with chronic traumatic diseases, absolutely — who wouldn’t?” Bochem said.

Sandy Meyer, of Kinderhook, is a retired plant biologist who found the lecture fascinating and was familiar with some of the points in Weinberg’s talk.

“I was very interested in the medical side [of marijuana],” Meyer said.

Meyer believes that while there needs to be rules and regulations in place surrounding medical marijuana, current restrictions on it are too much, she said.

“I think we’ve gone a little overboard with all this,” Meyer said.

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman, email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.