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Sky Lakes board opposes pot measure

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Sky Lakes board opposes pot measure

Hospital news | Monday, May 2, 2016

KLAMATH FALLS – The Sky Lakes Medical Center board of directors last week voted to formally oppose Ballot Measure 18-105, which would grant licenses to cannabis-related business in Klamath County.

"Taking a political stand, while not unprecedented, is rare for the board," Sky Lakes President and CEO Paul Stewart said today. "We do not normally adopt a political position unless it relates to health.

"We see the ballot measure as a clear threat to the health of the people we serve."

Ballot Measure 18-105 seeks to overturn the Klamath County commissioners' decision to ban the sales and production of marijuana in Klamath County. The measure's defeat would leave that ban in place.

"Sky Lakes regularly demonstrates its leadership in health matters," Stewart said. "As an organization, we contribute considerable time and talent to improve the health, self-reliance and well-being of people in our community."

Sky Lakes will provide $600,000 over three years to enable the Blue Zones Project in Klamath Falls.

"The board decided it's important to take a stand on this measure that is so antithetical to all we do and so contrary to all we hope to accomplish," Stewart added.

He noted the effects of long-term marijuana use are poorly studied, yet there is evidence to suggest regular use of recreational marijuana:

  • Affects short-term memory, sensory perception, attention span, problem solving and psychomotor control, which goes to driving safety;
  • Leads to inflammatory changes of the airways, which contributes to an increased risk for acute and chronic bronchitis;
  • Affects brain development, with some studies showing impaired thinking and learning functions and decreases in IQ in teens using marijuana;
  • Is associated with higher rates of high school drop outs;
  • Is linked to increases in job absences, accidents, and injuries; and
  • Can cause fluctuations in anxiety and depression.

"Our lack of knowledge about the real impacts of marijuana use is no different than our view of tobacco use in the mid-1950s," he said. "Smoking was common and accepted at the time, when we knew little about the dangers or the short- and long-term harm caused by tobacco.

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

Stewart pointed out that, in Colorado, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, health care organizations have witnessed increased patient harm caused by retail marijuana. He noted hospitals there report:

  • A dramatic increase in the number of newborns who test positive for marijuana (marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to increased risk of brain and behavioral problems in babies);
  • An alarming number of children 18 and younger being treated in emergency departments for marijuana-related conditions;
  • More accidental and intentional overdoses; and
  • More primary care visits for breathing problems related to inhalation of marijuana. In February, a child was treated at Sky Lakes after accidentally eating a commercially produced marijuana-laced cookie he found on the ground.

"Those favoring the ballot measure sales and production of marijuana are simply wrong when they say it would become an economic force, and that it would contribute additional tax revenue," Stewart said. "The economic benefit is spurious at best."

Klamath County's direct revenue from marijuana taxation would amount to less than $26,000 a year, much of which would be used to enforce marijuana sales laws, a government report notes.

In addition, owners of legal dispensaries in Colorado suggest that the black market has not gone away, according to published reports. The Sky Lakes board's stance agrees with local economic development agencies in that allowing the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana would negatively impact the Klamath County work force.

"We believe passage of 18-105 would make the area less desirable and less competitive when it comes to attracting to the region new businesses that seek a drug-free workforce," Stewart said.

About Sky Lakes: Sky Lakes Medical Center is a community-owned, internationally accredited acute-care hospital licensed for 176 beds. With more than 1,300 employees, Sky Lakes is among the region's largest employers. The Sky Lakes family includes a full range of inpatient and outpatient services, a home health agency, a variety of primary care and specialty physician clinics, the award-winning Sky Lakes Cancer Treatment Center, and Cascades East Family Medicine Residency.