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A facility's lonely journey

February 1, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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In my September/October 2010 column I asked about whether tough financial times had left treatment center administrators contemplating business arrangements with alcohol or tobacco companies. I heard from an associate of the co-founders of Journey Healing Centers, which recently opted to take a different kind of stand but came to realize that speaking out for one's principles can be a lonely pursuit.

Joshua and Lisa Lannon decided during the last election campaign that it was important to counteract what they considered misleading arguments for an Arizona medical marijuana initiative. The proposal was being touted as a compassion measure by organizations that elsewhere were openly claiming to be pushing for outright legalization of marijuana, they say. The Lannons began issuing press releases against Proposition 203. To their knowledge, no other treatment organization in the state took a public position on the ballot measure.

Not long after, the Lannons began to understand a likely reason for their colleagues' silence. “When we took a stand that this was a misleading campaign, we got attacked, on websites and in interviews,” Joshua Lannon recalls.

Some who denounced Journey Healing Centers even made the claim that it opposed the medical marijuana initiative because its passage would reduce referrals to the center from drug court programs. These individuals didn't do their research, say the Lannons: Journey doesn't work with that criminal justice population.

“If marijuana were legal, it would actually increase our business,” says Lisa Lannon.

Voters ultimately would approve Proposition 203 by a narrow margin, leaving the Lannons to wonder whether a more organized campaign of opposition from the treatment community could have made a difference. “There weren't even doctors saying yea or nay on this,” Lisa says.

“It was a close call,” adds Joshua. “There was more money riding for it.”

The Lannons are concerned mainly that more accepted uses of marijuana will be interpreted by the public as a license for all individuals to use the drug safely. They say they see this all the time with the growing problem of prescription drug misuse, as clients will say that a medication can't possibly be harmful because a doctor told them it was OK.

In some respects, the Lannons believe that going public with their concerns last year could help their organization in the long run. “It plants a seed,” Joshua Lannon says. “Maybe when someone is ready to stop using, they will think about us.”

And he hasn't given up on the notion that treatment center executives can work together on important advocacy matters. “The more we can unite with other centers, the larger voice and bigger reach we can have,” he says.

Now that Prop. 203 has become law in Arizona, Journey Healing Centers has turned its attention to educating the public about marijuana's dangers. Lisa Lannon sees the medical marijuana campaign as being about money, as dispensaries are expected to generate significant revenue for the state while truly benefiting only a sliver of the state's population. “We're tired of the lies,” she says.

The Lannons appear more determined than ever to speak out. As a new year began, Joshua placed the issue in terms that many resolution makers would understand.

“It's like going to the gym,” he says. “You can work out hard once, but that's not going to get you results. It's about repetition.”

Gary A. Enos, Editor Addiction Professional 2011 January-February;9(1):6