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Impact of medical marijuana chamber luncheon topic

September 27, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The state of Florida has legalized medical marijuana, and the consequences it will have on businesses and the state at large are very much unknown, the North Fort Myers business community was told last week.

On Wednesday, at the monthly North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Business Leaders Luncheon at the Smoke n Pit, Jenna Richardson, of Compass Drug Screening, gave those in attendance what she believes the impact will be, and much of it wasn't good.

Richardson gave leaders information on the bill, what it does and doesn't say, the protections that are in place, and what the odds are of dealing with the realities of legalization of the drug for medical reasons.

One of the realities is that attitudes on marijuana have changed. Fifty years ago, it was widely believed the drug was bad. That perception has changed dramatically over the years.

But so is marijuana, and it's a more powerful drug than it was at Woodstock, she said.

"This isn't your dad's marijuana. What we smoked when we were young is not the same. The carcinogen levels are much higher now, there are more varieties, and young people who have extended use in their lives are losing cognitive abilities that isn't rebounding when you stopped."

She said that unlike most drugs and alcohol, marijuana is not approved by the FDA, nor were any tests done on it. It's simply about the bottom line.

Richardson, who admitted she is not a fan of legalization, used Colorado, which has legalized medical and recreational pot, as an example of what can happen.

Richardson showed a graph which indicated vehicular deaths are going up along with vehicle insurance rates, and the impact for an employer could also mean more in health care costs, as she said one joint is equal to five cigarettes regarding carcinogens.

"They say the crime rate has gone down, but that's because we took a whole sector of crime and made it legal," Richardson said. "That behavior is no longer illegal. We're seeing what's happening in Colorado and it isn't good."

Richardson also said that, technically, when Florida voters decided to allow legalization of marijuana, it broke the law. Federal law prohibits pot, which prevails in cases such as this, she maintained.

It is why the National Football League is able to suspend players for using pot, even if marijuana is legal in that particular state.

In Colorado, many employers are forgoing drug testing altogether. Richardson said that drug use has increased while under the influence.

"Accountability is going down and fatalities are going up. It's easier for someone under the influence to get a job," Richardson said.

Brian Avery, a local insurance agent, said that industries have to follow OSHA regulations, which in and of itself makes legal marijuana use illegal. He also said that with increased drug use, insurance and disabilities claims and lawsuits also increase.

Richardson said OSHA is trying to respond as best it could, but with companies not following traditional protocol. She said companies fear reporting accidents because of the drug test that follows.

"You can't use drug testing as a punitive response to an accident and you can't make everyone take a test because of an accident," Richardson said.

Avery said that with the increase in lawsuits, the price of product will increase which could make this a potential catastrophe for business.

In Florida. medical marijuana is not expected to be in the smokeable form, but rather in something such as pills or other forms. Richardson said much of legalized medical marijuana use comes from people suffering from pain.



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