By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — By a 6-1 vote, Mount Vernon City Council adopted legislation banning the growth and dispensing of medical marijuana.
Councilman Sam Barone cast the dissenting vote. His motion to postpone the legislation until the Sept. 11 meeting failed by a 5-2 vote. Barone opposed the legislation for three reasons:
The state has not yet issued its final rules regarding the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana.
The ban applies only to Mount Vernon. “Neighboring townships could be host to a dispensary,” he said. Noting that he is happy to look at legislation banning cultivation, he said that prohibiting a dispensary does not make good business sense. He said there is no assurance that there will not be a dispensary 100 yards from the city limits, the city will not have control over township dispensary activities and the city will have no financial benefit.
The number of people who suffer from the 21 diagnoses covered by medical marijuana. “Those are chronic conditions for which there is no cure but solid evidence that medical marijuana is a mitigator of pain. We're making their lives more difficult,” he said.
During a committee meeting held prior to the legislative session, Barone said he is concerned that some of the statistics being cited about medical marijuana are associated with recreational use of the drug. He said that based on the research he has done, he is “having a hard time with this correlation between medical marijuana and crime.”
Tanya Newell, clerk of council, read an email from Diana Carver. Carver opposes the legislation because of the medical and monetary benefits medical marijuana activities would bring to the city.
Residents Dennis Swingle and Gary Kester spoke in favor of the ban. “I know we have a huge drug problem in the county and city. I just feel the cultivation of marijuana within the city isn't something we need to allow because it's another possible use for an illegal drug,” said Swingle.
“We think it's the right thing to do. We think it's the common sense thing to do,” said Kester, who also represented several people on his street. He said that he did not want to bring problems the magnitude of what Franklin County is facing to Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon Police Chief Roger Monroe and Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville also favor banning medical marijuana activities. “The main reason is that right now we are doing everything we can to fight drugs,” said Monroe. “It still breeds crime and other aspects that we are not prepared to deal with.”
McConville said that although it is public policy of the state to use it, marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance, “and we have to find a balance between the two.” Under the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration's definition, Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use, a lack of accepted safety for medical use under supervision and a high potential for abuse.
He referred to Colorado's marijuana expansion, which involves three phases:
*2000-2008: private growers allowed small quantities, six plants
*2009: commercial operations for medical marijuana
*2013: recreational marijuana
McConville cited statistics from a 2014 report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Traffic Area which is tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado:
*Between 2009 and 2013 there was a 26 percent increase in youth marijuana use ages 12 to 17.
*There was a 32 percent increase in drug-related suspensions and expulsions between the 2008-2009 school years and 2012-2013 school years.
*In a survey of school resource officers, 89 percent said they saw an increase in marijuana in schools.
*There was a 57 percent in emergency room visits related to marijuana.
*The potency of THC in marijuana is 17 times higher now.
“These are some of the perils in Colorado; these are some of the perils we will see here. There's no reason to bring this peril to Mount Vernon,” he said.
McConville also said the way the state has set up the number of dispensaries and cultivators is not market based and hearkens back to the days of government choosing winners and losers. “I submit this is something the city of Mount Vernon should not be a part of,” he said.
Council members John Francis, Janis Seavolt, John Booth, Susan Kahrl and Nancy Vail all spoke in favor of banning marijuana activities. “Somebody scheduled it Schedule I and said it has no medical value,” said Francis. “I don't understand why they don't lobby the federal government to change it form a Schedule I to Schedule II if it has medicinal value.”
Seavolt said she researched the issue from a doctor's perspective. She said all of the ones she talked with locally were not going to prescribe it because it was an illegal drug and their malpractice premiums would increase. “I couldn't find a doctor here who would prescribe it,” she said, adding that some Franklin County physicians said the same thing. “If our doctors aren't going to prescribe it, [patients] will have to go out of town and they can buy it there.”
Booth said he feels the medical marijuana issue is not about medicine or mercy, it is about money. “Cities and counties are going to be stuck with the residue,” he said. “I would actually resign before I wouldn't support this [legislation].”
Acknowledging that it is a difficult issue, Kahrl said that she was struck by a mother's story about losing her son to drugs; the mother said that even medical marijuana is a gateway drug. “I don't think anything we've said here is worth a child's life,” said Kahrl.
Vail said that studies show a link between routine use of marijuana and mental illness, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, pregnancy health risks and addiction. “I feel very strongly that we should not allow this, and I feel very strongly that the townships shouldn't allow it, either,” she said.