Talking policy with Terri Robnett

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Terri Robnett, founder and executive director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance.
The Highs and Lows of the Weed Business/Channel 4

sat down to talk with Terri Robnett on the banks of Boulder Creek, and it wasn’t long before a gust of thick, dank cannabis smoke wafted past our noses. She breathed in deeply. “I just love that smell,” she says, a heartfelt smile spreading across her face.

Robnett is the founder and executive director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance, an organization that works to protect and advance the rights of medical marijuana patients by “changing hearts and minds, one conversation at a time.” It is in this capacity that she sits on Boulder’s Marijuana Advisory Panel as it prepares a lengthy list of recommendations to present to City Council at the end of the summer.

After sitting through several meetings, I reached out to Robnett in hopes that she could help me make sense of all that policy work. Laughing, she quotes Otto von Bismarck, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

Robnett has a lot of experience trudging through policy and has been instrumental in passing pieces of legislation at both the state and local level. She worked on Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana and, more recently, on Jack’s Law, which allows students to take medical marijuana while at school. In essence, she has been making sausage for decades.

Involvement in all this policy work gives Robnett a unique vantage point as she stands at the fulcrum of the paradigm shift of cannabis, watching as legalization replaces prohibition and challenges long-standing beliefs in the process.

Where others get impatient, she remains composed (although still passionate and fiery in advocating for these issues). She explains to me that over the years she has come to expect incremental changes because she understands how difficult change can be on a personal, let alone governmental, level.

“I try to be sympathetic with people as they reckon with the end of prohibition,” Robnett says. “[During prohibition regulators] were given an impossible task [to try to stop marijuana use] as society got around the laws, time and time again,” she says. “I try to imagine them arresting people [who sold and used marijuana], treating them like criminals and the sort of justifications that must have accompanied that. Then marijuana’s legal status changes and they are left wondering what it was all for. It only makes sense that prohibitionist sentiments linger in some way or another, out of justification for past action or habit.”

The end of prohibition brings the morality of weed into a new era. But she worries that instead of moving beyond that arbitrary moral framework, people are merely replacing it with new types of blame — that cannabis is unsafe or risky business.

Listening to her talk, I was reminded of Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a sociology book that uncovers many logical fallacies common in human cognition. When confronted with a difficult problem requiring effort to answer, we will often substitute it with an easier question and solve that instead, never realizing the substitution. This becomes the troubling source of many of the biases that infect our thinking.

I’m not sure if Robnett sees herself this way, but I see her as a watchdog who points out when policymakers are using flawed logic to defend fear-based policies. I admire the courage this takes, especially because Robnett often stands alone at the table as an advocate for medical patients and home cultivation, without the backing of money or the lobbying power of the retail industry.

Robnett is positioned in what is commonly referred to as the “gray” area of marijuana — the combination of the white, legal market and the black, illicit market. “Gray” suggests home cultivation is not totally legal and, for Robnett, this is the epitome of the residual bias toward cannabis.

“It may not be highly regulated, it may not be taxed, but it is not only legal, but a constitutional right in Colorado,” she says. “There seems to be a push to shut down and limit caregivers and patients, the gray area, as if it was just a bridge from one phase to the next, but it is more than that. It is a patient’s right, and we have to preserve the right to home cultivation.”

Many medical marijuana patients can only get their needs met from caregiver relationships. Whether it’s an issue of access to a particular strain, getting sufficient quantity or ensuring the affordability of the plant, the home cultivation market meets needs that the retail industry cannot. Robnett worries that as industry becomes more regulated, developed and ingrained in the mechanisms of legal marijuana, money will take precedence over what she refers to as love, or the medicinal qualities of a beautiful plant.

“A lot of this will shake out over time,” she says, “but we need to be careful that we don’t go backwards in the process.” 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

  • GEORGE SAMARAS

    We need this person to advocate her ideas in Pueblo County. NOW. How can I get her to address groups here before the election. Twice the votership has approved development of the industry, but officials refuse to listen to the will of the people. Now for the 3rd time it is again a ballot issue. It’s an economic boom, even if temporary, to this poverty, gang stricken, heroine epidemic community.

    • Lyin’ Brian Vicente was hired by Pueblo to ENFORCE pot prohibitions against individual users, growers, caregivers and patients, in favor of his Greedy Big $$ Dispensary Cartel Clients.

    • Kathleen Chippi

      what ideas? there certainly weren’t any presented….

  • Kathleen Chippi

    lol. My Dog what tales some tell…In reality patients and caregivers should not rely on anyone but themselves to fight for what they need because Teri/CPA like to “compromise” their rights. Teri Robnett/CPA began putting people in harms way when she supported MORE pot prohibitions like the unscientific 5 nanogram THC limit her friends at national NORML and the general assembly bashed down Colorado cannabis users throats. Yes that language puts every cannabis user at risk of arrest/DUI/attorneys fee’s/rehab/probation/pain in your a** etc. Real cannabis activists helped kill the language at least 6 times over 3 years and it only passed when it was ‘re-created’ as a new bill on the last day of the session, had no public hearings and was passed 6 hours later, (with support of Teri/CPA). Teri even applauded when activists were removed from the previous hearings for heckling the nonsense about THC DUI/fatal crashes that do not exist coming from the general assembly.

    I’m sure she intentionally forgot about her misleading desperate parents in 2015 to support a bill that had completely ZERO impact/success at allowing kids to use cannabis at school. The bill was corrected this year to now do what she promised in 2015 but how many families moved to CO in 2015 in hopes of helping their kids only to find out the Teri/CPA ‘marketing’ of the language was a complete lie.

    And Teri/CPA had nothing to do with A20 when it came to Colorado from Soros funded AMMR/Drug Policy Alliance way back in 1997. Maybe some confusion in her own mind as she DID support the unconstitutional HB10-1284, the bill that started the ATTACK on patients and caregivers medicinal rights. And then when the Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project (PCRLP) sued the state over the unconstitutionality, she contributed not a minute of her time or a dime to the cost.

  • Kathleen Chippi

    Amazing how little substance this article has when there is NO MENTION that ALL that on June 28th patients/caregivers and people over 21 in unincorporated Boulder County are about to be screwed out of their constitutional rights under both A20 and A64 to cultivate either whatever is medically necessary or 6 plants per ‘adult’ as the county is looking to LIMIT ALL land parcels to 6 plants period and banning CO2 use. Apparently the 6 plant limit already exists in Boulder proper….where was Teri/CPA then/now since she is the peoples only ‘representative’ on the Boulder advisory? Teri has not attended any of the meetings for BC and she/CPA have made no public comment in regard to it since it’s public birth in March….but that is what the media likes to do so you do nothing–assure you someone is fighting for your rights–so you don’t and then they quietly disappear and you get told Teri was on it….lol.