When dispelling qualms about cannabis, Jennifer Hendzlik takes a highly hands-on approach.
Hendzlik, a collection buyer for Anythink Libraries in Adams County, Colorado, helped lead a presentation on medical marijuana and libraries at the 2016 Public Library Association Conference in Denver. As part of the presentation, Hendzlik handed out rolling papers and oregano and taught attendees how to make their own joints—“just to take the fear out of it,” she says.
Not every librarian might feel comfortable teaching patrons how to roll a joint. Still, now that numerous states have legalized cannabis in at least some form for medical or even recreational purposes, many libraries are stepping in to educate their communities about the conditions it treats, who is eligible to use it, how those patients can obtain it, what the laws are in their area, and how interested parties can get into the business of growing or selling it.
“We tend to think of stereotypes about what cannabis is—weed and stoners and 20-somethings eating Doritos—but I’ve learned that a lot of people are using marijuana for medical purposes, and this [information] is a great help to them,” Hendzlik says. “There are people who have moved to Colorado just to try to get some relief from their pain. As librarians, we should be talking about this and providing information.”
As part of that effort, Hendzlik has advised librarians around the country about how to build their collections of cannabis-related resources, from the business of growing medical marijuana to cannabis cookbooks and more. “There’s even a whole series for children called Stinky Steve, put out by the Michigan Cannabis Business Association, to help kids know how to be safe with marijuana in whatever situation they may come across it,” she says.
There are people who have moved to Colorado just to try to get some relief from their pain. As librarians, we should be talking about this and providing information.Jennifer Hendzlik, collection buyer for Anything Libraries in Adams County, Colorado
The primary thing Hendzlik tells librarians who contact her for advice: “Know your community and what its needs are. If you’re in a fairly conservative community and you make a huge display [of books on cannabis], chances are that’s probably not going to go so great for you.” But, she says, that doesn’t mean you need to ignore the subject: “Maybe you have a small collection with basic information available. It’s just like any other service we provide that can be a little sensitive.”
In Oregon, cannabis was made legal for medical purposes in 1998. But it wasn’t until late 2016, when the state began issuing licenses to retailers of recreational marijuana, that Mary Hones (a librarian at the Ashland branch of Jackson County Library Services who has since retired) started to see increased patron demand for information. To take just one example, “people needed to get their marijuana workers’ permit, and that was done online, so you’d have farmer-looking people coming in using the computers to fill out their paperwork,” she recalls.
In response, she helped develop her branch’s cannabis resource collection and created an online guide that provides information on marijuana laws, terminology, conferences, websites, books, reports, and studies. It has proven extremely popular.
“I’m very happy whenever I look at the list of books—almost all the time, everything is checked out, so that makes me feel good,” Hones says. She’s happy, too, that the library’s public relations staff has helped publicize the guide: “Anything the library spends money on, you should be willing to back it up by letting people know, because who’s it for? It’s not for you. It’s for your patrons.”
As for pushback, she says she hasn’t received any. To the contrary, “there was a great deal of support,” she says. “It’s such a resource for a wide variety of people. If you don’t need this information yourself, you know somebody who could find it useful. So I just got tons of positive feedback about it.”
Last September, the Charles County (Md.) Public Library (CCPL) prepared for the December 1 operationalization of the state’s medical marijuana program by partnering with the Maryland Economic Development Commission to hold a “community conversation” about the cannabis industry. The program drew about 70 people, many of whom, says CCPL Executive Director Janet Salazar, had questions such as: “How much is this [medical marijuana] going to cost? How do I get the card that says I need it? Is this going to lead to further drug use?”
“It was all the questions you could possibly think of,” Salazar says. “The industry people who were there were very forthcoming about how it’s going to be very regulated, like a pharmacy, and about the medical benefits of using cannabis as opposed to some other methods of pain control that are more addictive. Everybody was very respectful and very grateful for the opportunity to ask questions.”
Like Hones, Salazar has not encountered significant opposition to the library’s educational efforts. “There are going to be some people who don’t understand why you’re doing this,” she says. “As long as you can say to them, ‘This is part of our mission and our strategic plan,’ most people are like, ‘Oh, okay.’” They understand, she says, that “we’re not just books; we are a gathering place where you get information. We are a trusted source.”