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Medical center board, president oppose retail pot measure

Community news | Monday, October 22, 2018

Contact: Thomas Hottman

By Paul Stewart, Sky Lakes President and CEO

The Sky Lakes Medical Center board of directors has taken a rare political stand opposing the ballot measure that would allow retail marijuana sales in Klamath Falls.

Here’s why: The ballot measure is a clear threat to the health of the people we serve.

Sky Lakes regularly demonstrates its leadership in health matters by contributing considerable time and talent to help improve the health, self-reliance and well-being of people in our community.

Measure 18-112 is antithetical to all we do and contrary to all we hope to accomplish.

Review the evidence.

I have read with great interest the arguments being put forward in support of legalizing the manufacture and retail distribution of marijuana within the city limits, and I find them incredibly troubling. I recognize this is because there really aren’t any sound arguments in favor of legalized recreational marijuana, so proponents have to reach for something.

City Councilman Phil Studenberg argues that passage of ballot measure 18-112 would create jobs and be good for our local economy. I find it disappointing, if not tragic, that an elected civic leader would advocate, as an economic development policy, the increased sales of intoxicants.

It is well-documented that states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen dramatic increases in motor vehicle accidents associated with drivers intoxicated by marijuana. Why on earth would we want this in our community to -- maybe -- create a few jobs? Advocates are putting pot profits ahead of people.

Arguments have also been put forward by Mr. Studenberg as well as pot proponent Ed Medina that the increased regulations will actually make our community safer, and will help keep marijuana out of the hands of our young people. Obviously, they are choosing to ignore the evidence coming out of Washington and Colorado – two states that have had legalized recreational marijuana for longer than Oregon – showing an increased use of marijuana by teenagers, as well as a thriving black market.

The black market thrives in these states because retail establishments actually have to charge more for the product to cover their overhead and taxes being collected. It’s cheaper for people to purchase from non-retail individuals, and, with a blind eye being cast on the growing and production, it’s readily available.

If we were to buy the “increased regulation is safer” argument, then we also would have to believe that teenagers don’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. And those are products that aren’t usually being manufactured in a home, as marijuana would be.

As a society we buried our heads in the sand another time in the past century, and that has ended up costing literally millions of lives. In the 1950s, almost everyone thought tobacco was safe, and nearly 50 percent of Americans smoked or chewed it. Now it’s a legal product that kills more than 6 million people worldwide every year and causes long-term harm to millions more.

As a society, we are paying dearly now for our uninformed actions then.

Those favoring the ballot measure are wrong when they say marijuana would become an economic force and that it would contribute significant additional tax revenue. Tax revenues would not even cover the additional law enforcement costs.

Ballot backers are wrong when they say there are health benefits from inhaling burning organic material. Our recent prize in the national “Culture of Health” competition recognizes the efforts locally to help people kick the smoking habit. Promoting pot smoking disrespects the prize and all it represents, and dishonors everyone working to improve health.

Passage of 18-112 would make the area less competitive when it comes to attracting new businesses that seek a drug-free workforce, and less desirable to professionals seeking a new home where they can work and raise families.

The mounting research on marijuana use, its negative impacts on intelligence, brain development, contributions to addictive behavior, increased healthcare and law enforcement costs, and increased incidents of driving under the influence and motor vehicle accidents is abundantly convincing. We cannot and should not ignore this overwhelming evidence.

Klamath Falls should not be one of those communities that rationalize “it’s coming anyway so we may as well.” Let’s be one of the 90-plus Oregon communities that are saying “we don’t need this – we don’t need to put our youth at increased risk, we don’t need more traffic accidents, we don’t need the increased health care costs.”

Let’s put people – especially our youth – ahead of pot profits.

Sky Lakes Medical Center President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Stewart is former chairman of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems board, and the 2017 recipient of the Oregon Statesman of the Year award.