Activists: Oppose legal marijuana

April 6, 2019

KANKAKEE — More car crashes. More homelessness. More absenteeism. More work accidents.

That’s how two anti-marijuana activists portrayed Colorado since the state legalized marijuana five years ago. At Kankakee’s Majestic Theatre on Thursday, they spoke to a group of local police officers and leaders, including Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey and Kankakee schools Superintendent Genevra Walters.

The activists — Dr. Karen Randall and Jo McGuire — are on a tour of Illinois to make the case against marijuana legalization. State legislators now are considering bills to allow it.

The activists repeatedly urged local residents to call lawmakers and ask them to vote against marijuana legalization.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, whose district includes Kankakee County, is for legalization, and Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, says she is open to the idea.

Randall, an emergency room doctor in Pueblo, Colo., showed photos of a man sleeping in his car and a woman begging. Such homelessness, she said, is increasing as people move to Colorado to take advantage of marijuana legalization. At the same time, Pueblo is struggling to fund a homeless shelter, she said.

While Colorado regulates marijuana, the activists said, many people are growing it in their homes. State law allows each person older than 21 to grow up to six plants, but many exceed that number. Randall said her neighbor was caught with 3,000 plants.

“Would you want this for your neighbor?” she said.

McGuire told the audience that the potency of marijuana is far more than in the days of Woodstock. In the 1960s, marijuana’s THC content, its main active ingredient, was 1 to 3 percent, she said. Now it’s 16 or higher, she said.

Only 1 percent of Colorado’s state budget comes from the marijuana industry, the activists said, even though its boosters portray legalized marijuana as an economic boon.

It’s next to impossible to regulate marijuana, they said. This is demonstrated by the fact Denver’s 25 McDonald’s restaurants are dwarfed by about 400 marijuana establishments.

“You can’t wipe out the black market with so many establishments,” McGuire said.

McGuire presented Colorado statistics that indicated Colorado traffic deaths increased to 648 in 2017, from 447 in 2011. And a survey indicated two-thirds of Colorado marijuana users admitted to driving high.

A resident with a medical marijuana card spoke up during the meeting about how dangerous marijuana is. She said she uses marijuana three or four times per year when she is in a lot of pain.

“I can’t use any of it and leave my house,” the woman told the audience. “I’m actually stupid when I use it. Everything they said is true. It’s very sad. I won’t say my name.”

Fighting her emotions, the woman hugged Randall.

Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner said while he favors medical marijuana, he opposes the recreational variety.

“Marijuana is a gateway drug,” he said. “I can’t believe that Illinois will do this.”

Two of Colorado’s leading pro-marijuana groups couldn’t be reached for immediate comment Wednesday.