Pueblo’s pot debate continues — in Vermont

In this Friday, Dec.18, 2015, file photograph, the logo is shown on the front of jars of marijuana buds marketed by rapper Snopp Dogg in one of the LivWell marijuana chain's outlets south of downtown Denver. As legal marijuana becomes a further-entrenched fact of life in Colorado, small-town leaders are struggling to sort out the same issues that Denver and other cities have tangled with, from zoning for grows and dispensaries to allowing cannabis clubs. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

After a ballot question threatened to rid Pueblo County of its marijuana industry in November, the debate continues over whether pot has been good for the community.

That debate isn’t confined to Pueblo, or even the state, but reaches as far as Vermont, where Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill earlier this year that would have legalized marijuana in that state.

A Pueblo doctor and Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace both penned guest columns on a Vermont news website portraying very different outcomes of the recreational marijuana industry in Pueblo.

Dr. Karen Randall, an emergency room doctor in Pueblo, warned that the promise of pot didn’t exactly deliver in Pueblo.

Randall claims in her guest column that Pueblo’s homeless population has tripled, emergency room visits related to marijuana are up, and the promise of good jobs? Well, Randall says that didn’t happen, either.

“Every employee that I have seen that identifies themselves as a marijuana industry employee has been on Medicaid,” she writes.

“So, does it really benefit a community to provide more extremely low-income jobs to an area? I am sure there are a very limited number of people who are profiting excessively from the marijuana industry, but the majority of workers are not making enough money that they can live and thrive without government assistance (Medicaid, food stamps, etc).”

Days later Commissioner Pace replied to the 12-point letter saying he was “shocked” to see the commentary.

And to Randall’s argument that marijuana has devastated the local economy? Pace, a former state representative, said economic troubles were in full swing well before Amendment 64.

Pueblo County has historically been poorer than the rest of the state. We’ve faced rampant unemployment since the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company shut its steel factory doors in the 1980s. Before legalization of marijuana, our unemployment rate was mired above 12 percent. Today, we sit at 3.2 percent unemployment and we have more Puebloans employed than ever in our history. The construction market is booming because 50 percent of all construction projects are directly attributed to cannabis projects. We’ve seen well over $100 million in outside capital investment into our economy, and we are exporting $50 million annually of marijuana products to communities mostly around the Denver metro area of the state.

So why was a doctor writing to an audience in Vermont, anyway?

Pace wrote that he didn’t know, but he alluded to one suspicion: “The pharmaceutical industry is scared of legalized marijuana. Marijuana is a threat to opioid manufacturers and those who benefit from prescribing them.”

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