60 Minutes last night


From today’s Commonwealth Magazine


Outsider’s perspective on pot legalization

 

Monday, October 31, 2016

 

When you’re struggling with a decision, sometimes it’s helpful to get an outsider’s perspective. The CBS news magazine 60 Minutes on Sunday reported on marijuana legalization, which is on the ballot this year in California, Massachusetts, Maine, Arizona, and Nevada. If legalization passes in all five states, nearly a quarter of the nation’s residents will be able to buy marijuana legally for recreational use.

 

The 60 Minutes report, by Dr. Jon LaPook, focuses on Colorado, and specifically the county of Pueblo, which LaPook describes as the Napa Valley of cannabis. Marijuana legalization has brought 1,300 jobs, 60 businesses, and millions of dollars in investment to Pueblo. Colorado also appears to be keeping a close eye on the business, with cameras monitoring grow areas and plants individually tagged with radio frequency tags.

 

But despite all these pluses, Pueblo has a measure on its ballot to ban the production and sale of recreational pot in the county. Dr. Steven Simerville, medical director of the newborn intensive care unit at the local hospital, says 27 babies born at the hospital in the first nine months of this year tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In the first 10 months, 71 teenagers came into the hospital and tested positive for THC.

 

Law enforcement officials are also troubled by marijuana, saying there’s no way right now to test drivers for driving under the influence. They are also worried about outsiders coming into the area and growing marijuana for out-of-state distribution. “The black market is alive and well and thriving,” said Public County Sheriff Kirk Taylor. “In fact, it’s exploding.”

 

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper originally opposed marijuana legalization and is now trying to make it work. He says the law has brought in $141 million in tax revenue last year and brought a black market business into the light of day. “No one can argue that the old system wasn’t a disaster,” he said.

 

Hickenlooper’s advice for other states considering legalization is to start gathering baseline data now to track what’s happening with newborns, teens, and others. He says he would tell other states to exercise caution on legalizing marijuana.

 

“My recommendation has been that they should go slowly and probably wait a couple of years,” he said. “And let’s make sure that we get some good vertical studies to make sure that there isn’t a dramatic increase in teenage usage, that there isn’t a significant increase in abuse while driving. We don’t see it yet, but the data are not perfect. And we don’t have enough data yet to make that decision.”

 

BRUCE MOHL

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