Pubdate: Mon, 02 May 2016
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2016 The Denver Post Corp
Author: David Olinger


Pueblo Hospitals Have Joined a Petition Drive to Stop Recreational 
Marijuana Sales.

Dr. Steven Simerville worries about the number of babies being born 
in Pueblo with marijuana in their bodies.

The medical director of the newborn intensive care unit at St. Mary- 
Corwin Medical Center finds that mothers who abhor smoking cigarettes 
during pregnancy see no harm in smoking a joint.

"What I'm seeing in our nursery is a dramatic increase in babies who 
test positive for marijuana," he said. "The interesting thing for me 
is the number of mothers who use marijuana and want to breast feed. 
They don't believe marijuana is harmful."

In an unusual political campaign, Pueblo's hospitals and some of its 
doctors have joined a petition drive to stop sales of recreational 
marijuana throughout Pueblo County.

The petition, by Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo, contends the city and 
county have been harmed by the rapid proliferation of pot shops and 
commercial growers.

Simerville said his concerns reflect those of the American Academy of 
Pediatrics, which has linked marijuana in newborn babies, a critical 
stage for brain development, to academic underachievement and 
behavioral disorders.

"There's an education gap that we need to fill. It may be safe for 
adults, but not for adolescents and newborns," he said.

To date, the Pueblo campaign appears isolated. The Colorado Hospital 
Association knows of no other communities or hospitals in the state 
undertaking similar efforts.

"Because this is a local ballot initiative, the association does not 
have a formal legislative position on this matter," association 
spokeswoman Julie Lonborg said. "We would, however, say that CHA is 
delighted that the hospitals in Pueblo are working togeth-er to 
address a health concern in their community."

One problem with evaluating the risks of maternal marijuana use to 
babies is that research on the subject is also in its infancy.

"Anecdotally, I think we are seeing more babies born with marijuana 
in their systems," said Dr. Antonia Chiesa, a Children's Hospital 
Colorado pediatrician who also serves on its child protection team.

But "there are still big research gaps in terms of safety - growth of 
the fetus, prematurity, neurological development and a possible 
increased risk for stillbirth."

What is clear, she said, is that marijuana passes through the 
placenta to the baby, and "it's definitely in breast milk."

Because drug tests are performed only when a new mother is suspected 
of or admits to drug use, the percentage of positive marijuana tests 
has been high in Pueblo, but the absolute numbers have been low.

In March, for example, 52 babies were born at St. Mary- Corwin. 
Eleven of the mothers were suspected of drug use after a verbal 
screening, and five of their babies tested positive for marijuana.

Despite hospital concerns, eliminating recreational sales throughout 
the county could be a hard sell. The new industry blossomed quickly 
in an old steel mill city that languished for decades.

Sal Pace, a Pueblo County commissioner, noted that county voters 
overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment legalizing 
marijuana sales in Colorado.

Now, "we're seeing a significant economic boost" from marijuana 
businesses, he said, accounting for 60 percent of new construction 
permits and $ 3 million a year in taxes.

"We absolutely don't want to see mothers using THC when they're 
pregnant," he said. But if Pueblo bans recreational marijuana sales, 
"these jobs and tax revenues will just go to another community. I 
don't think we can afford to turn away these jobs and tax revenues."

Dr. Karen Randall, an emergency medicine doctor in Pueblo, contends 
social costs have outweighed those revenues.

"Almost every shift I work," she said, she meets someone who came for 
the marijuana - and who adds, "I don't have a job, I don't have a 
place to live, I don't have money."

The influx has overwhelmed Pueblo's medical and social service 
systems, she said. "This is a huge social experiment, and we've failed."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom