Cannabis Literacy | BackTalk

Many states are legalizing the possession, use, and sale of cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes, even as it remains illegal at the federal level. Whether or not your library is located in one of those states, the frequent presence of the substance in the news may be raising questions for your patrons.

Cannabis plant from 'De historia stirpivm commentarii insignes ... '
Courtesty of Wellcome Images

Many states are legalizing the possession, use, and sale of cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes, even as it remains illegal at the federal level. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), legalization has been adopted in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, DC.

Whether or not your library is located in one of those states, the frequent presence of the substance in the news may be raising questions for your patrons, such as, is it a good alternative to opioids? Will it damage my body? Do I have to smoke it? In states where it is not yet legal, medical or recreational cannabis bills may be on the ballot. Our job is to help people find valid information—even if topics are controversial.

Normally, finding information about products, medicinal or otherwise, is straightforward. However, cannabis has a long history of misinformation campaigns and governmental persecution that can muddy the waters. To help meet patrons’ cannabis information needs, librarians should become familiar with the sources in their locales and regions.

Legal information

  • Ordinances: There are often local announcements and meetings about ordinances regulating the sale and use of cannabis. The library can maintain a binder, web page, or other resource.
  • Governmental department websites: Some agencies have already packaged information. The Sacramento Cannabis Web Resource is a great example:

Medical information

There has been a veritable windfall of data published on this topic in the last few years, for example:

  • Dussault, Dee. Ganja Yoga: A Practical Guide to Conscious Relaxation, Soothing Pain Relief, and Enlightened Self-Discovery. (2017)
  • Leinow, Leonard & Juliana Birnbaum. CBD: A Patient’s Guide to Health with Medicinal Cannabis. (2017)
  • Oregon Health Authority. OMMP Plant Limits. (2017)

Reliable online resources include:

Many insurance providers won’t cover, and some doctors refuse to issue, cannabis prescriptions. Therefore, patrons may need to search a resource such as Leafly’s medical marijuana doctor locator. (Leafly also features one of the most extensive cannabis strain lists in the world.)

You can even search for information in your area on medical cannabis doctors via Yelp. Several services charge users or require one to become a member; don’t buy into those. A local Facebook group can also be a good resource in your area, such as the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program Facebook group.

A growing business

Business resources are another area librarians may not have considered. Cannabis-related businesses sell insurance, growing supplies, seeds, clones, edibles, flowers, concentrates, and associated equipment. Forbes reported over $6.7 billion in sales for 2016. Your library can prepare to serve these information needs by using the following:

Libraries respond

Libraries are rising to the challenge of providing reliable information. In October 2017, American Libraries cited Colorado’s Anythink, which not only circulates relevant books and movies but hosted a Careers in Cannabis speaking panel and librarian education nights, where librarians Jennifer Hendzlik and Aaron Bock “team with other Public Library Association (PLA) chapters to open a dialog about marijuana and literature.” Hendzlik and Bock also presented on the subject at the 2016 PLA conference in Denver. In a session titled “Puff, Puff, Lend: Cannabis Culture and the Library Collection,” they discussed selecting materials about growing, cultivating, and cooking marijuana, as well as business, use, science, law, and activism—plus “Book and Bud” pairings.

In January, the Oakland Public Library published a blog post titled “OPL Responds: The Legalization of Marijuana Use” that details the basics on the new law for California residents. Also, the Denver Public Library will hold a book event on the history of cannabis in the West in March.

With the advent of cannabis as big business, recreational legalization in several states, and the national opioid crisis, we can expect our patrons’ information needs to increase in this area. No matter where we live, librarians should prepare for requests and become familiar with reliable sources.

Max Macias, an independent librarian, teaches information literacy part-time for Portland Community College, OR. His interests include information and hip-hop, whiteness in education, racism in the United States, colonialism, cannabis resources for librarians, and education
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Our small village has approved opening at least one dispensary directly across from our library. Our staff has mixed feelings since such dispensaries are blocked from school zones, but not from a library that offers all sorts of child-centric access and programs. Are we lacking in logic? Are there suggestions for staff to help us anticipate problems for such a location? (There are 7 approved, 5 pending in our community - 3 within a 4 block area of the library.)

Posted : Mar 21, 2018 12:43

Max Macias

I don't know what kind of problems you anticipate? Can you describe one?

Posted : Mar 21, 2018 12:43


Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.

Get access to 8000+ annual reviews of books, ebooks, and more

As low as $13.50/month