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How a Maine Nurse is Leading Cannabis Legalization in the Northeast

October 5, 2016
Carey S. Clark, a nurse who isn't afraid to talk about cannabis.
When Carey S. Clark sent out a public letter last month expressing her support for Maine’s cannabis legalization initiative, she received a lot of supportive responses. She also heard from a few critics. One nurse told her “you should be ashamed of yourself.” Others questioned her professional standing and her employment. Clark is a highly respected nurse, researcher, and associate professor of nursing at the University of Maine. She responded to her critics “with kindness,” she said, and encouraged them to further explore the issue.

It was a typical response from a medical professional with 22 years of experience, who has been working intensively around cannabis issues for the last two years.


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Clark first became interested in the cannabis movement years ago while living in California. Being surrounded by the casual cannabis culture, in a state where medical marijuana is legal and cannabis consumption and cultivation are the norm, it was a bit of a shock for her when she moved to Maine, where the old cannabis stigmas still prevail. She moved to Maine to start a holistic-integral nursing program; soon after, she joined the American Cannabis Nurses Association, to strengthen her support for medical cannabis.

“When cannabis is better regulated, teen use actually drops.”

She didn’t become an outspoken advocate, though, until this past May when she attended the Maine State Democratic Convention as a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders. David Boyer, campaign manager for the Yes on 1 legalization campaign, was in attendance at the event, and Clark spoke to him about her background and interest in the campaign.

“I saw this table for the taxation, regulation, and legalization of cannabis in Maine,” she recently told Leafly. “When I started talking to David Boyer, he got me rolling into being more active. For a lot of doctors and nurses there is so much stigma around cannabis that it makes it really challenging to stand up and advocate for patients, for people, and the plant. There’s still a lot of misinformation and fear.”

In between her teaching, research, and attending duties, Clark spoke with Leafly recently about her newly public role in the fight for legalization.

Leafly: What sort of reaction have you received from your professional colleagues?

Carey Clark: The Maine Yes on 1 Campaign asked me to write a letter on why I support cannabis legalization, and we received hundreds of postcards back in support of Yes on 1. However, I did run into issues with colleagues disagreeing with my letter and my decision to write it. One nurse emailed me and said, ‘This is horrible that you’re supporting pot and you should be doing something else with your Ph.D. You should be ashamed of yourself.” I responded back to her with kindness and sent her my references, encouraging her to explore the issues for herself. I was also contacted by the Maine school nurses association, and I also sent them more references and encouraged them to contact the Colorado school nurses association, as one of their concerns was teen use. When cannabis is better regulated, teen use actually drops. I also think Colorado did a really good job of educating about driving while intoxicated, which is a concern for nurses everywhere.


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Though it can be challenging when others disagree with legalization and support prohibition, by arguing in favor of legalization I’m really able to strengthen my own stance.

As the aforementioned letter went out to thousands of nurses and health care providers around the state. I found out the hard way that using my workplace title of associate professor with my signature  caused people to contact the university administration, asking if the university was also in support of the legalization of marijuana. I believe some people expressed concerns about my employment with the university. The university ended up going through their legal department and, obviously, determined that I have my right to freedom of speech and to use my title as I see fit. However, they did request that I keep them informed of my political activities, so they can anticipate a response on their part. Ultimately the university I work for has supported my right to freedom of speech and the right to be an advocate for patient populations.”

How have you seen the conversation change around cannabis in the last five years?

Particularly here in Maine, on a local level, it has evolved toward people actually talking about it, about what the issues are around prohibition versus legalization. Nurses have come out on the national level issue of descheduling or rescheduling, and nurses from around the country are active around this issue. As even more research emerges in addition to the 20,000-plus evidence-based articles on cannabis efficacy, I can’t think of a single drug or plant that has had more research on it and yet still carries so much stigma. But at least we’re talking about these things!


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There is a cannabis black market in Maine, with people providing cannabis to people who are not patients. If people have the option of going to a recreational store, where there will be labels on cannabis products,  patients and recreational users alike will know what they’re getting. It empowers the consumers. We don’t think twice about looking at alcohol percentage when we purchase alcohol. It’s time for cannabis to move in the direction of labeling and empowering the consumer. People are already self-medicating with cannabis, which I believe is their right to do just as we self-medicate with other herbal supplements. Maybe we can also get folks who are suffering to self-medicate and perhaps heal themselves with something far safer than alcohol and opiates.”

What are your hopes and concerns for legalization?

My biggest hope is that legalization in Maine and other states actually happens this year! We can learn from the other states that have legalized and strive to educate people. We need to support the legislation and regulatory efforts around cannabis safety, quality, and access. We’ll have to keep assessing and evaluating what is working and what might need to be changed. How will this work with the education process? Can we get the Department of Agriculture (the likely regulatory body in Maine) to work in coalition with the Division of Public Health to ensure this legalization process goes well? My hope is that it would be good for the state of Maine to set an example, to demonstrate what kind of high quality medicine we’re growing and  making here, and allow people to access it in a way that is safe.”


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My biggest concerns? I suppose one of my concerns is with the Maine police. The Maine Chiefs of Police Organization has come out against legalization. My concern is how law enforcement plans to educate themselves and how they plan on being a part of the regulatory force. I sincerely hope we make an effort to educate law enforcement and the public. That should be a priority. We also need to educate health care providers, doctors and nurses, about the endocannabinoid system and how cannabis creates homeostasis.

Legalization alone won’t end the stigma around cannabis. We need to come together to advocate for this plant, our planet, and the populations in need of healing.

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

View Lisa Rough's articles

  • James Bodie

    Excellent article! Cary Clarke is right on the money! Thank you, Carey!

  • Patricia Descafano RN

    Right on Carey. Stigma needs to be wiped out and change will come. I am a nurse too. I am working in a dispensary to educate the general public about Cannabis and all of it’s medicinal effects. My education has been self guided until I joined the ANCA. Now I am taking the CEU’s courses to fill in the gaps I met with when I first embarked on this journey. While I feel the CEU’s should be mandatory for all nurses, right now I see the stigma getting in the way of moving forward about the stigma issue. I was slow to post anything on Face Book about the Cannabis Movement to all of my nursing friends to help educate what is happening in the medical field about Cannabis. None of my friends commented either way. I guess that is a good thing? Or not? I don’t know..but. What I do know is that if people like us continue to speak up and educate the public the people trying to block this transition will find that we the people know what works best for us. It can be use effectively and safely if education is out there and easy to find.