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New, local Marijuana Anonymous group forms at area church

Marijuana AnonymousNext week, men and women from across Washington County will meet at Christ the King Lutheran Church on Bull Mountain to talk about their problems.

They’ve been meeting there for a few weeks now, getting chips for their sobriety, telling their stories and supporting one another.

The 12-step program is similar to groups who meet all over the world, but this isn’t Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous.

Monday’s group members all self-identify as marijuana addicts.

Marijuana Anonymous has operated 12-step recovery groups across the Portland area since the 1990s, and this month, started a new group for people in Southeast Washington County.

The local group, which calls itself “One Toke over the Line,” meets for an hour on Monday nights to discuss the hardships of marijuana addiction.

Marijuana Anonymous spokesman Paul G said the meetings are a good way to help members avoid temptation and relate to people who are going through similar circumstances.

“It’s nice to be in a room with people who have the same problem as you,” he said.

As legalization in Oregon begins to take shape — the state collected nearly $3.5 million in recreational cannabis taxes in January, more than state economists had expected for the entire year — Marijuana Anonymous has expanded its operation in Portland.

“Now, we have meetings in Portland every night of the week,” said Paul, who asked that his last name not be used.

Paul has been attending Marijuana Anonymous meetings for 17 years.

A controversial subject

Whether or not marijuana is addictive is controversial. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders lists marijuana use disorder as one of the most common such disorders in the United States (though still behind alcohol use), many cannabis users say the substance isn’t nearly as addictive as some claim.

Paul said he doesn’t take sides.

“I just know that I was hooked and couldn’t stop myself,” he said. “That’s all I needed to know.”

Paul started attending meetings in 1999, but it wasn’t until the following year that he quit for good.

“I was like a drunk who says he’ll never drink again, and then he does,” he said. “After a while, I just ran out of gas. I had been doing it for so long that I didn’t know how to get through a day without smoking.”

Paul’s story is similar to many people who smoked marijuana as teenagers, he said.

“It’s the pretty standard addict story,” he said. “I started with drugs and alcohol as a teenager. By my 30s, I had, well, let’s say that my pleasure-to-problem ratio was heavily weighted toward ‘problem.’”

Despite marijuana’s prevalence in American society, MA has stayed largely under the radar, Paul said.

“If you tell someone that you’re a recovering alcoholic, people know what that is,” Paul said. “They’ve seen that on TV and in movies. Alcoholics Anonymous has been around for so long. But if you say that you’re a marijuana addict, people look at you funny. They didn’t know that was even a thing.”

Paul said he’s not sure how many people attend MA meetings across the Portland area.

“I don’t think anybody keeps track of that kind of thing,” he said.

“Anecdotally, from what I’ve seen, our meetings aren’t getting bigger, but we are having more of them now.”

Paul said he doesn’t expect legalization to have a large impact on addicts, although he said it has made slipping back into the habit more tempting for some.

“It’s not like marijuana was that hard to find before legalization,” Paul said. “But it does increase the number of times that you smell pot when you’re out on the street. I imagine if you were new and slippery, as we say, that might be tougher for you.”

Paul said MA takes no side on whether or not marijuana should be legal to purchase.

“Our opinion is that we have no opinion,” he said. “We just want to be here for people who want to quit smoking pot.”

The success of 12-step support groups like AA is also controversial, with little conclusive scientific evidence on either side.

Paul said that the group’s power is about connecting with people who share their experiences.

“The fundamental insight is the power of one addict helping another,” Paul said.

“That help goes both ways. You can’t keep it (your sobriety) unless you give it away. That part of it is paying it back to the group. When I needed MA, there were people there for me. Now I try to be there for the next person who needs it.”

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