Tufts to Host Cannabis Debate

March 29 interdisciplinary event involves issues related to health, science, criminal justice, entrepreneurship, and regulation
illustration with cannabis leaf and symbols for justice, communication, medicine, and law, among others
“I don’t think of the debate as having sides—rather it is a complex and interwoven issue,” said John de la Parra, one of the organizers. Illustration: Ex College
March 21, 2019


From billboards to town meetings to front page articles in newspapers, cannabis is having a moment. Ever since its legalization in Massachusetts for recreational use in late 2016, it’s been the topic of many heated discussions.

Now Tufts will host a debate on cannabis, with panelists whose expertise includes health, science, law enforcement, criminal justice, entrepreneurship, and government regulation. They will discuss sociocultural, medical, legal, and political aspects to cannabis.

The debate takes place Friday, March 29 from noon to 2 p.m., with two break-out sessions from 2 to 3:30 p.m. It will be held at Distler Hall, 20 Talbot Avenue, Medford, and is free and open to the public.

The debate is being presented by Tufts’ Experimental College, which this semester is offering the course The Cannabis Debate: The Intersection of Science, Culture, and the Law, co-taught by Ernest Anemone, an attorney and advisor for the cannabis industry, and John de la Parra, an ethnobotanist and biotechnologist who specializes in medicinal plant research. Anemone will moderate the debate, and de la Parra will be a panelist.

Other panelists are Rachael Rollins, Suffolk County district attorney; Shaleen Title, a commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission; Aja N. Atwood, CEO and co-founder Trella Technologies, an agricultural technology company; Andrea James, founder and executive of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls; Dustin Sulak, director of Integr8 Health and co-founder of Healer.com; and David Art, professor of comparative politics at Tufts.

“I don’t think of the debate as having sides—rather it is a complex and interwoven issue,” said de la Parra. “This is an historic exercise in public discourse and dialogue that engages uniquely diverse stakeholders on a timely issue that affects us all. My greatest hope is that attendees will leave with new ideas about how public discourse can occur around all types of so-called controversial issues. At the same time, I think this event will further the normalization of conversations around cannabis.”

Anemone said he hoped the takeaway will be a greater appreciation for the complexity of plants and plant medicine. “Western medicine is still coming to terms with the highly-contextual nature of medicine itself,” he said. “Cannabis is a model drug to explore these issues because of our influence on its genetics as well as our shifting understanding of recreational versus medicinal uses.”

The Ex College class has hopefully been eye-opening for their students, Anemone and de la Parra said. The class discussions “go far beyond legalization versus prohibition, and touch on complicated issues of public health, commercial law, and deep philosophical, ethical, and cultural issues,” said Anemone.

The debate is the fifth and final installment of the Voices from the Edge lecture series, made possible by the generosity of Sarah and Tom Janover.

Register for the Cannabis Debate on Eventbrite.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

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