Pubdate: Fri, 04 Nov 2016
Source: Arizona Daily Sun (AZ)
Copyright: 2016 Arizona Daily Sun
Author: Emery Cowan


Last week, Northern Arizona Healthcare employees received an email
from their top boss, NAH President and CEO Robert Thames.

In it, Thames waded into one of the more contentious issues on
Arizona's ballot this election: the legalization of recreational marijuana.

The email, which opened with the subject line "ONE NAH, One Obligation
to Health," addressed Proposition 205, which would legalize
recreational marijuana in Arizona and create a system to regulate and
tax the drug.

In his message, Thames emphasized the significance of the ballot
measure to NAH employees as healthcare providers. NAH is the parent
organization for Flagstaff Medical Center, Sedona Medical Center and
Verde Valley Medical Center.

"Marijuana, like tobacco or alcohol, is a substance that is capable of
producing negative individual and community health effects. Because
our communities look to us to champion health, it's very important
that we 'go to school' on how legalization could impact our health,
our families health and the health of our communities," Thames wrote
in the email.

He provided a link to an online explainer of the ballot measure as
well as a Fortune article about pushback on legalization in Colorado
from people who cite a rise in marijuana-related hospitalizations,
more drug-related crime and a flood of homeless people drawn to
pot-related jobs and easier access to the drug.

The email also links to a report from a Pueblo, Colo.-based nonprofit
that serves the homeless and has seen a major influx of new clients,
many of which it says were drawn to the city because of marijuana

"Counties in Colorado are now taking action to ban recreational
marijuana and related commerce, but, regretfully, much damage has
already been done," Thames wrote. "Whichever way you decide to vote,
please make sure you've learned the facts and consider what this means
for the future health of our communities."

In addition to Thames' email, Flagstaff Medical Center hosted a talk
by Dr. Brad Roberts, a Pueblo emergency room doctor and self-described
critic of marijuana legalization. Roberts' talk referenced medical
reports of marijuana's effects on the brain, cannabis dependence and
an increase in THC content in marijuana, among other topics.

"Marijuana use is actually extremely harmful and having legalized
recreational marijuana, from personal experience in my own home town,
has led to massive production, increased availability and targeted
unregulated marketing that increases the use of an extremely harmful
drug," Roberts said in the talk last week, which was voluntary for NAH
employees to attend. "We care deeply"

When asked why he sent the Prop 205 email, Thames replied in an email

"Because we care deeply," he wrote. "Our mission is to provide
patients with exceptional care while transforming the health of the
communities we serve. Part of fulfilling that mission is seeking
evidenced-based sources of information when making health-related 

When asked about his position on Proposition 205 as CEO of the
healthcare organization, Thames demurred, saying that "Northern
Arizona Healthcare encourages its colleagues and the communities it
serves to seek evidenced-based sources of information - such as the
information provided by Dr. Roberts - about how using marijuana
affects personal and public health, just as we do with any other habit
- - nutrition, exercise, substance use - whether legal or illegal."

Trista MacVittie, spokesperson with NAH, said the organization has
offered its perspective on political issues in the past, noting NAH's
support of Medicaid expansion in 2013 when Governor Brewer was
proposing an assessment on hospitals to fund the expansion. That
situation was somewhat different, however, in that legislation
allowing for the hospital assessment was put to state legislators, not
voters, so NAH employees wouldn't have been the ones deciding on it.

Barrett Marson, communications director with the pro-205 Campaign to
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said there are several physicians who
support the proposition and are willing to share their

"If we were ever asked we would absolutely be able to find doctors or
medical professionals who could talk about the benefits of allowing
adults to legally purchase marijuana," he said.

He encouraged Thames to share with his employees a pro-legalization
guest column written by Dr. Jeffrey Singer that was published in the
Daily Sun on Tuesday. A guest column opposing Prop. 205 appeared on
the same page.

Thames did not answer another question asked via email about whether
NAH arranged for an equivalent pro-Prop 205 presentation for employees
to attend as well.
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MAP posted-by: Matt