It’s Not Shelved In the 420s: Legalized Marijuana and Other Intellectual Freedom Concerns

I’m lucky enough to live in Colorado – an absolutely beautiful state that boasts mountains and prairies, great educational opportunities, and an awesome community of library professionals. It’s also one of eight states with a law allowing recreational marijuana use. As today is 4/20, I thought we could talk about marijuana resources in libraries. How do we deal with taboo topics and changes in the cultural landscape as librarians? There are plenty of myths and misunderstandings of the law – how do we provide our patrons with the most reliable information? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we train staff to deal with all of this?


Image courtesy of  Vaping360.

It’s been almost five years since Colorado and Washington passed recreational marijuana laws, and more knowledgeable professionals than I have curated resources on cannabis for librarians. Three Colorado librarians presented a session called, “Puff, Puff, Lend: Cannabis Culture and the Library Collection” at PLA in 2016, which is also available as a webinar. Their slides and handouts are chock full of basic information as well as resources for further learning and community organizations to consult. Their “Book and Bud Pairing” list is especially entertaining and is a great example of reaching patrons by playing with traditional services. Max Macias has a great post on his blog The Lowrider Librarian – Cannabis Resources for Librarians Serving Medical Patients and Others – as well as relevant slides from a conference presentation.

But besides these resources and a few scattered LibGuides, there isn’t that much out there for librarians. As the number of states with recreational and medical cannabis laws increases, I think it’s fair to ask ourselves how effectively we serve the informational needs of our patrons – all of our patrons. When Colorado’s law first passed, I remember hearing a lot of misinformation about how, when, where, why, and for whom cannabis was legal. Don’t we want our patrons to be equipped with reliable and factual information so that they can make educated decisions about all aspects of social, civic, and personal life?

Though I wasn’t working at a library in 2012 when the law first passed, I have been working at a public library for two and a half years. In this time, I have not had one patron ask me about cannabis resources while staffing the reference desk, and I’ve never had any sort of professional conversation about how to assist patrons who might be looking. I believe that part of the issue is that people don’t think of the library when they think of this information. In addition, societal taboos make topics like this ones touchy in the public sphere, despite legality.

However, taboos should not hinder our level of service. Here at HLS, we’ve spoken up about many “controversial” aspects of intellectual freedom, including Black Lives Matter, trans rights, and intersectionality. We’re also devoted intellectual freedom fighters. As students and new professionals, we are in a unique position to breathe new life into these conversations and to advocate for issues that others may not feel comfortable with discussing. I’m still figuring out how to do this in my library – I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a book display or putting together a handout (or both!), but haven’t quite settled on what’s right for our patrons, our administration, and our staff. However, the first step is starting the conversation.

This is a unique information and intellectual freedom need that I’ve noticed in my community – what topics are avoided at your library and how can you address them in a responsible way? 


2 replies

  1. Curating information displays for such issues is often a difficult and sensitive endeavor even as we librarians tend to be open-minded about intellectual freedom. I’ve worked in libraries for religious institutions here in South Carolina, and I can tell you that navigating the political and religious taboo waters while trying to defend the intellectual curiosity and freedom was trying at times. Thank you for bringing up the above mentioned resources, and I will be sure to check them out!


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