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When cannabis became legal for adult use on Jan. 1, it felt like we were hosting a coming out party at Solful, the cannabis dispensary we opened in Sebastopol last year. Previously, visitors had arrived armed with medical recommendations, in search of alternatives to Western medicine to address their health concerns.

The lifting of California’s prohibition brought a new wave of visitors: “canna-curious” mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, business owners, doctors, lawyers, veterans and everyone in between — eager to explore new pathways to improving their health, wellness and happiness.

But just three days after California ended its prohibition, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who infamously said, “good people don’t smoke cannabis,” announced that the Justice Department would rescind the Cole memo — a policy of federal non-interference with cannabis-friendly states’ laws. In doing this, he showed how out of touch he and the current administration are with the American people.

Cannabis acceptance is not a “liberal” West Coast thing. It’s a nationwide shift in attitudes. A 2017 CBS News poll found that 61 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, 88 percent approved of its medical use and 71 percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop cannabis sales in states that have legalized it. Today, 30 states and Washington, D.C. allow cannabis usage in some form, and eight states along with the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use.

Our nation is in the process of shedding the old stereotypes around cannabis as people discover the many things this plant can do beyond getting high. This reinterpretation is taking place across all demographics, but it’s interesting to note that some of the strongest advocates for cannabis are seniors. At Solful, roughly one-third of our customers are over 60 and at a stage where maintaining good health is daily focus.

In January, I spent time with more than 200 Sonoma County seniors to help them get current on the state of cannabis science and products. I gave talks at senior centers and hosted field trips at Solful. Most people were looking for advice on improving sleep, reducing inflammation, treating skin conditions or combating diseases such as Parkinson’s. They were fascinated by the latest research, lsuch as a study showing how cannabis reverses cognitive decline in mice. As with other Solful customers, they were seeking alternatives to alcohol for relaxation. And they were universally excited to learn about all the ways to use cannabis without smoking it.

If Sessions were to spend time in Sonoma County, he would see that good people are indeed smoking (and vaporizing) cannabis, rubbing it on their sore joints and ingesting it to help their minds and bodies get back in balance. He’d also see a model for how local dispensaries work with law enforcement to make sure that state and local municipalities’ strict cannabis regulations are upheld.

In addition to improving lives, he’d see how cannabis is having positive impacts on communities. After Solful’s first three months, we employ about 20 people — each paid well above the Sonoma County living wage and provided health, dental and vision insurance. The Northern California farmers and product manufacturers we call our partners are small businesses that also create jobs. The exciting part is, we are just beginning to see how cannabis can energize local economies across the state.

As people step out of the “green closet,” we need to deepen the public discourse about how cannabis, used responsibly, can improve lives. The conversation begins with an acceptance that good people do indeed use cannabis. I know this, because I spend every day interacting with them.

Eli Melrod is chief executive officer and co-founder of Solful Dispensary in Sebastopol.

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