By MICHAEL PRAMENKO
If you are old enough, you may remember the Tobacco Institute. This defunct organization once served a critical role for the tobacco industry. It was able to protect the tobacco industry from greater scrutiny for years via deception and lies regarding the effects of smoking and chewing tobacco. In fact, via the Tobacco Institute’s efforts, the tobacco industry denied for years that nicotine was even addictive let alone a major risk factor for heart and lung disease. After tobacco industry CEOs stood in front of Congress and lied about the addictive nature of nicotine, the public finally had enough. The Tobacco Institute was forced to shut down.
Fast forward several decades and another industry is working hard to deceive the public in order to advance its own agenda and profit. And, you don’t have to go very far to witness their antics at work. It’s the cannabis industry.
The state of Colorado continues its grand experiment with legal marijuana sales. Soon, as directed by Grand Junction voters, this experiment will be coming to our community after the Grand Junction City Council decides on marijuana shop regulations.
Certainly, the citizens of Grand Junction and the City Council should be wary and skeptical of any information they receive from this industry regarding the safety of marijuana use. For instance, the industry suggests that teenage marijuana use is not rising following legalization. In fact, some national and state data suggest that use is rising among teenagers. It is no coincidence that Colorado and other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have the highest rates of teenage marijuana use. And, there is no dispute that the teenagers that do use it are using it in greater frequency and at higher THC strength.
Not surprisingly, Colorado emergency rooms are seeing a sharp rise in marijuana intoxication. At UCHealth on the Front Range, their emergency room saw a three-fold increase in visits in the years following legalization. Patients have been presenting with vomiting, fast heart rates, and psychotic episodes.
Furthermore, research clearly indicates a significant and adverse effect of marijuana use on the developing brain. It is far from benign and has led to increased suicide risk, increased school dropout, lower educational achievement, and psychosis. There are issues of on-the-job work performance, increased marijuana-related DUI incidents, and increased exposure to marijuana among very young children.
Now the marijuana industry is at our doorstep and they want the same access to the marketplace here that they have garnered elsewhere. In Colorado, marijuana shops now outnumber Starbucks and McDonald’s stores combined. The industry’s presence was notable leading up to Grand Junction referendum and now during the months leading up to the council’s work on marijuana shop regulations. With deceptive and friendly “data” in hand, they have already shaped attitudes and beliefs about marijuana legalization. To some degree, they have been successful. Nevertheless, via our elected City Council representatives, we still get to decide how this product and this industry does business in our community.
While Grand Junction voters have approved recreational marijuana sales, we do not have to follow the marijuana industry’s playbook that will inevitably increase demand for marijuana here in our community. With a smart approach honoring the wishes of the voters, the Grand Junction City Council can guide us down a path that will allow Grand Junction access to the tax revenue associated with marijuana sales while working to minimize the detrimental effects that this product will bring to our community. In fact, via a bold approach, Grand Junction has the opportunity to direct all the profits to local efforts to improve our community. With a bold approach, we allow only a small number of stores and reduce the need for marijuana advertising. For details, visit www.InvestInGJ.org.
We should not let history repeat itself with yet another industry designed for profit at the expense of health.
We have a choice. Will we put Grand Junction first or the Colorado cannabis industry?
Dr. Michael Pramenko is a past president of The Colorado Medical Society, board chair of Monument Health, and a physician at Primary Care Partners.