Take a weed-eater to this proposal

By Carol Walker

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Recreation — I have always associated it with doing something active or, at the very least, pursuing some sort of hobby in our leisure time. But to associate the word recreation with marijuana doesn’t seem quite right to me.

New Approach South Dakota (NASD) would like to see an initiated measure on the 2018 ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana. Melissa Mentele, a leader for NASD, says our state is missing out on the $6 billion industry that has been created in our country in states that have legalized recreational pot. When you blow the smoke away, that is usually what comes into focus — money.

Education, that’s always a big selling point, would get the lion’s share of the profit at 40 percent. She says all the people on their board are parents and education is something that is “near and dear to their hearts.” The general fund would see a boost at 30 percent, and 20 percent would go to the Department of Health for drug and alcohol abuse programs, along with 10 percent to South Dakota law enforcement.

Mentele said, “South Dakota, with our beautiful state, unlimited outdoor recreational opportunities, hunters, and bikers during Sturgis, has the potential to bring in millions in tax revenue.” Millions in the state coffers, at what cost?

Yes, we have a beautiful state known for “unlimited outdoor recreational opportunities,” but do we want it to then be known as one more state that offers the questionable beauty of recreational pot? Let’s see, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse, the Mickelson Trail, Terry Peak, Spearfish Canyon, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, recreational pot. That last one just doesn’t quite seem to fit. Do we really want to add to our list of tourists from around the world,  people who might come here because of relaxed marijuana laws? That is what is happening in Colorado.

When it comes to money, in fiscal year 2015, Colorado collected $10.3 billion in taxes of which 129 million came from the pot industry, about 1.3 percent of the state general fund tax money. Someone in Colorado called it “a little more than a drop in the bucket — maybe a cupful.”

Once the smoke from the pot train is moving ahead, it may be difficult to ever clear the air. During the last election, people in Pueblo County, Colorado tried a ballot initiative to ban recreational pot, but it was voted down. Dr. Steven Simerville of Pueblo’s St. Mary Corwin Medical Center supported the ban on marijuana because of what he has seen in his medical practice.

In 2016 during the first nine months of the year, 27 babies born at the hospital tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. That was up 15 percent from the previous year. When faced with the news, mothers wondered how it could be harmful because it is a legal drug. Simerville explained to the mothers that though they may be smoking a little, the baby is getting seven times that amount. Research has shown that exposure to marijuana in utero may cause verbal, memory and behavioral problems during early childhood. THC can also be passed on to babies in high concentrations in breast milk.

Likewise, in the first 10 months of 2016, 71 teenagers came into the same hospital emergency room with marijuana in their system, 70 percent up from the year before. Simerville said evidence is emerging that teens who use marijuana four to five days a week may face long-term damage in areas of the brain that control cognitive functions like attention, memory and decision-making.

The South Dakota proposal would allow use in public places, but not while driving. What about the person who uses and then gets on the road? In Colorado, they have no field sobriety test in use that is the equivalent of the breathalyzer for alcohol. Dr. Marilyn Huestus of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said you can’t transfer the rules for alcohol to marijuana.

“When you take alcohol, it has its effects, and then it leaves the body. When you take cannabis, it gets into the tissues of your body and is stored.” It is stored in fat, and the brain is a very fatty tissue. She said it’s still in the brain even when you can no longer measure it in the blood.

Governor Daugaard is opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana, as is Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom. Do we really want to sell our beautiful South Dakota soul to pot for a cup-sized pot of gold?

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