Pot pros to budtenders: stop telling pregnant ladies to smoke cannabis

Pot pros to budtenders: stop telling pregnant ladies to smoke cannabis

VicesJune 15, 2018 By Reilly Capps

In a conference room at a law firm in Denver, Maureen McNamara, a cannabis consultant, stands in front of a few dozen budtenders.

"Who here is a risk taker? Raise your hand."

Most hands go up.

"Of course! You're in the cannabis business!" McNamara says. "We are playing with stuff that is federally illegal, schedule I style."

But her message to the budtenders is: don't take risks with other people's health.

The group gathered because of recent PR nightmare. The local county hospital, Denver Health, recently embarrassed budtenders and possibly put women's pregnancies at risk.

Female researchers from the hospital phoned 400 dispensaries. They told the budtenders they were expecting mothers and feeling nauseous. "Are there any products that are recommended for morning sickness?” the researchers asked.

And 69 percent of budtenders said yes.

Not a good look.

Now, weed is not clearly good or bad for fetuses. The evidence is mixed, but does suggest pot might inhibit growth. Most doctors tell pregnant women not to take the chance.

What is clear is that the budtenders gave some medical advice that wasn't great.

"I know aspirin is okay for babies, and [aspirin] is pretty much what you are getting [with marijuana]," one budtender told the researchers.

“Edibles would not hurt the child; they would be going through your (digestive) tract,” said another budtender.

"CBDs and the other good parts of the plants would get in your baby’s blood system, but the psychotropic properties, the THC molecule, would not get near your baby, so basically would not be getting your baby stoned," said another.

When this study with those quotes hit the newspaper and the TV, cannabis pros everywhere dug their nails into their palms in frustration.

"We have given fodder to our enemies," said Jordan Wellington, a cannabis user and co-founder of Simplifya, a company that helps pot shops follow the rules. "We have given them an opportunity to make us look bad."

Which the enemies of weed quickly did. Cannabis prohibitionists loudly and happily declared their intention to "defend babies." Smart Approaches to Marijuana gleefully bought 1,000 baby bibs, printed them with the phrase "Don't Hurt Our Future," hung the bibs on the doors of dispensaries and the governor's residence, and blasted out the pictures to the media.

[Anti-pot baby bibs hung on the door of the Colorado governor's mansion.]

"This is the latest disturbing example of the marijuana industry putting profits ahead of public health," the critics said in a video

Pregnant women do not seem to be using more marijuana. Numbers from the Colorado Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System say the same number of women used pot while pregnant in 2014 as in 2016. 

"In 2016, about 8 percent of women surveyed used marijuana during pregnancy — similar to the percentage of women who smoked cigarettes while pregnant and slightly less than half the percentage of women who said they drank alcohol," the Denver Post reported. (Alcohol, for the record, is clearly bad for fetuses — though maybe not in moderation.)

To try to wake the cannabis industry up from this PR nightmare, Wellington's company — Simplifya, which makes sure cannabis businesses follow the rules — and McNamara's business — Cannabis Trainers — teamed up with a number of other weed companies, such as Native Roots, Lightshade Dispensary, the Cannabis Business Alliance, the Marijuana Industry Group, invited any budtender who was interested into the conference room of Vicente Sederberg, a cannabis law firm, to school them.

"We're really gonna focus on how not to play doctor," McNamara told them.

[Maureen McNamara, right, and Jordan Wellington, second from right, try to guide budtenders and cannabis employees on what's okay to say to customers about cannabis and health.]

Wellington and McNamara told the budtenders that, legally, budtenders aren't supposed to hand out medical advice of any kind. Doesn't matter if it's about pregnant ladies or migraines — even conditions that cannabis has been proven to help, like seizures.

Wellington, a lawyer, said that the only way to be sure you can't get in trouble is by saying nothing. The only technically legally defensible answer is: Ask your doctor.

But not playing doctor isn't easy for a budtender. Cannabis is, in fact, a medicine, a medicine doctors don't know anything about, and won't recommend. So patients come to their budtender, who has to try to give guidance without stepping over a line of offering medical advice.

People want to know, for example, which strains are more uppers and which are more downers.

For example, a budtender is safer recommending a sativa for a good time at a concert than she is recommending a sativa to help depression. These are distinctions which, at least to this observer, are hazy.

However, it could be as simple as: don’t give people medical advice when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

"Budtenders are on the front line of legalization," Wellington said. "Being super careful on the language you use matters."

[Cover photo from Shutterstock.]