Dr. Steven Simerville revealed that 7-10% of babies born in his hospital test positive for THC at birth. He’s the head of pediatrics at a hospital in Pueblo, Colorado, where many mothers are using marijuana. THC in breast milk poses a risk to babies’ developing brains. For this reason, one hospital in Colorado no longer recommends breast feeding.
Against all Obstacles, We Must Keep the Mother – Child Bond
Newborn infants need to be with their mothers for their security and well-being. Newborns instantly turn to the mom’s voice and respond to her touch. it’s not possible for fathers or grandparents to sooth in the same way. The bond is crucial to a baby’s mental and emotional development. Furthermore, the World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding for the first two years of life.
Mothers of newborns, regardless of their addictions, should not be forced away from their babies. Even mothers who are in jail should not be separated from their infants and toddlers.
Last week in New Hampshire, Hope on Haven Hill opened for eight mothers struggling to overcome opioid addiction. There are at least two other such group homes in New Hampshire. There’s a need for more places like Haven Hill to support mothers and encourage them to get off of drugs.
National policy should do everything to stop maternal substance abuse in its track and to keep moms with their children. Drugged babies may grow up to have substance abuse issues. They may have difficulties in behavior and learning.
It’s a sad day in the United States when preventable drug overdose deaths kill more than 50,000 people a year. Deaths from misuse of legal and illegal drugs outnumber traffic fatalities, the next biggest cause of accidental deaths.
Colorado’s marijuana legalization has wreaked havoc on Pueblo, and city will be featured on 60 Minutes on November 6th. (Date has since been changed to Oct. 30) After nearly four years of legalized pot, many in the community are rebelling. By initiating Propositions 200 and 300, citizens of Pueblo hope to regain a voice in their future. A “yes” vote on both initiatives will shut down marijuana businesses in the city and Pueblo County.
Seventy percent of the counties in Colorado opted out of Amendment 64, which commercialized marijuana. The city of Pueblo banned retail marijuana, but the county of Pueblo licensed marijuana grows and retail stores. In 2014, we reported on the efforts to ban retail expansion in Pueblo West. Pueblo County commissioners promoted marijuana as an opportunity to fill empty factories and create jobs. Acting against the wishes of most of the county’s 160,000 residents, commissioners decided to license marijuana businesses..
An influx of 15,000 migrants moved to Pueblo for easy access to the drug. Some of the newcomers also hoped to find jobs in the pot industry. Tent villages are housing newcomers who can’t afford or find homes. Pueblo has always taken care of its homeless, but it can no longer handle the huge number of people needing services. Social services, soup kitchens and emergency rooms are stressed to the breaking point. Approximately one-third of county residents, 67,000 are on Medicaid.
Doctors from Three Hospitals Hold Press Conference
The medical community recently held a press conference, announcing that 237 physicians signed a statement supporting “yes” votes on the propositions. Physicians who spoke at the event detailed some of the health risks coming from marijuana use in the community. Dr. Steven Simerville, a pediatrician and Medical Director of St. Mary-Corwin Hospital, reports that 7-10% of the babies born are testing positive for THC. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Dr. Simerville cited a dramatic increase in attempted suicides, a five-fold increase since legalization. Every suicide attempt in the community, except one, involved THC.
Dr. Karen Randall an emergency medicine doctor affiliated with several of the Pueblo hospitals said that many of the newcomers to the area are coming to the emergency room with multiple and severe illnesses. Dr. Randall believes the Pueblo community could be on the verge of a public health disaster. She explained that those living in tent camps are at risk for the same communicable diseases found in refugee camps: flu, pertussis, cholera, tuberculosis. Randall, who previously worked in Detroit for a large city hospital as disaster coordinator, says she fears the Pueblo community health system is not equipped to deal with such an outbreak.
The black market is growing alongside the legal industry. Sheriff’s office reports that foreign cartels from Laos, Argentina, Cuba and Russia are now operating in Pueblo. The cartels are buying or renting homes and setting up illegal grows. Law enforcement has busted sixty illegal grows in 2016, but there are 1500 other documented grows –also illegal. Sheriff Kirk Taylor is also retooling his tracking methods to account for the increasing crimes associated with marijuana . Currently Pueblo has the highest murder rate in the state, at 11.1 per 100,000.
Rural Areas, Crime, Gangs and High Teen Use of All Drugs Reported
“Those living in the rural areas are scared,” reports Paula McPheeters of the Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo. “The marijuana grows are despoiling the land and draining the water aquifers. Squatters are growing marijuana and crime is increasing.” McPheeters says the community is being overwhelmed by outsiders moving in and taking over. Gang activity is increasing, drive by shootings, petty crime, auto theft are now big problems in a once peaceful community.
“Pueblo County now has 20 retail marijuana stores, compared to our 18 McDonalds, Starbucks and Walmart stores combined,” says McPheeters. The county took in 3.5 million in tax revenue from the marijuana industry, but McPheeters says, “The social costs to the community could easily be upwards of two times that amount.”
The biggest concern to those seeking to pass the ballot initiatives is the increase in youth drug use. Thirty one percent of high school students are using marijuana, three times the national average. Tragically, 12% have tried methamphetamine or heroin. The community has inadequate drug treatment facilities, so when teens get into trouble with addiction it is difficult to get them help.
A Cautionary Tale
Pueblo offers a cautionary tale against trying to resolve a government’s financial difficulties with tax revenue from marijuana. This relatively small city with a population of 120,000 is a former steel mill town which fell on hard times. It ranks number two in the state for poverty.
The Pueblo experience warns public officials to listen to the people’s will before allowing predatory businesses. It warns other communities what can happen to the youth when they’re surrounded by these businesses.
Pueblo may have some of the worst crime problems in Colorado, but it is not as bad as Eureka and Humboldt County, California. Humboldt County’s murder rate is 18.7 per 100,000 people, and it reports 250 missing persons per year.
Pot would have to include warnings that marijuana carries a risk of “permanent loss of brain abilities.” Many forms of marijuana that are currently popular such as vape pens and many edibles would become illegal.
Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo officials estimated that they submitted more than 9,000 signatures from the county; 5,454 valid signatures are required to place the county ban on the November ballot. Around 4,000 signatures were turned in from the city of Pueblo, 2,000 more than necessary.
The county clerk will have 30 days to decide if there are enough valid signatures to place the measures on the ballot.
(Part 2 on the battle to keep retail marijuana out of communities.) Colorado has become the butt of the jokes from late night talk show hosts. Some have gone so as to call it the vacation destination of “stoners” across America.
In the past, Colorado had been known mainly for its sporting activities and natural beauty. “I think that [health and wellness] is a better thing for us to promote. It seems a little hypocritical, regardless of what side of the argument you want to take. There’s a lot of evidence out there that this [marijuana] may not be the greatest thing for you,” Tim Haas told me as we discussed Colorado tourism.
Haas is struggling with the problem in Manitou Springs, as our last article detailed. Isn’t growing up to be a healthy, high functioning human being the message worth promoting to young children of Colorado? It’s time to let Colorado communities — rather than marijuana businesses that are expanding throughout the state — to decide what is best for their individual communities.
South to Pueblo West
An hour’s drive south of Manitou Springs, the Pueblo West Metropolitan District is fighting a similar battle. The community of Pueblo West has been struggling with the growing number of businesses selling, growing, cultivating, or producing marijuana-infused products. The metropolitan district is already credited to having 6 recreational dispensaries, with, what seems, a new rush of marijuana licenses on the way.
When medicinal and then recreational marijuana were legalized in Pueblo County, the county created a land use code that limited stores to property zoned for specific retail uses. The result was the zoning protected Pueblo City, with limited zoning, and Pueblo West, with far more retail zoning, became the place to open shop.
“The result is businesses looking for spaces found a lot more zoned in Pueblo West than a lot of other places in the county,” Commissioner Sal Pace said. “It was an unintended consequence.” Pueblo West doesn’t want the stores, but the community of about 35,000 is stuck with them. That’s what the resolution ended with, that acknowledgement.
While unintended, it’s nonetheless a consequence. In the minutes of a Pueblo West Metropolitan District meeting on July 8, 2014, Sheriff Kirk Taylor for Pueblo County is recorded as saying, that he “does not think the citizens of this community have weighed in on the issue. There have been over 100 municipalities and counties that have opted out [of marijuana retailers in their areas]. The community of Pueblo County never got an opportunity to opt out. Three commissioners decided it was good for us and they started giving out licenses, and in his opinion this is wrong.” In other words Pueblo West doesn’t want the stores it has, but the city is stuck with them.
Pueblo for Positive Impact(PfPI) Founder and Leader, Paula McPheeters, has been working diligently to make sure someone is standing up and speaking out for the community. “What we want is control of our own destiny for economic development and or the future. And we know there is way more to Pueblo West than just the marijuana industry,” said McPheeters.
Later in July, the Pueblo West Metropolitan Board finally heard its constituents and voted in favor 5-0 of a new resolution asking that the county not permit any new licensing of any additional marijuana-related facilities or operations. The resolution was passed shortly after being edited to remove a moratorium on pot shops. So while the community would still like to see the shops go somewhere else, they are still protected by the local Metropolitan Board.
The County Commissioner’s Board is beginning to feel the heat, as well, now that the local Metropolitan Board is being called to accurately represent Pueblo West’s desire to end the addition of any more pot shops in its community. Also putting on the pressure at the County Commissioner’s Board meetings are those representing the big business behind the marijuana industry, leaving many community members wondering who their local legislators are really listening to—the people who live in their communities and voted them in, or the profiteers looking to attract pot smokers.
These Coloradans aren’t arguing whether or not they think that pot should or should not be legal, it’s about community members deciding what’s best for them and their families.
Colorado used to be the state of the Olympic Committee, one of the healthiest populations in America, known for its hiking and skiing, and its beautiful landscapes. Communities that don’t want to be a part of the pot community and this new stereotype have the right to do so. Coloradans are now fighting for their right to not raise their children surrounded by pot shops and marijuana grows.