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Mingus Mountain Republican Club met Tuesday, Feb. 14, for its monthly luncheon at the Veterans of Foreign Wars — Post No. 7400 in Cottonwood.

This month, the club invited Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski to speak about current challenges facing his city, and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to present on the effects of marijuana on the county.

Elinski said the main challenges facing Cottonwood at the moment included the lack of jobs and youth activities, homelessness, the lack of financial resources, the minimum wage increase and millennial flight.


Polk opened her presentation by expressing relief over the outcome of the November election, which defeated Proposition 205 and prevented the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arizona.

“We really did dodge a bullet,” she said.

Fifty-one percent of voters said no to recreational marijuana. Recreational use had been on the ballot in the District of Columbia and four other states — California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada — and passed in all of them. Polk was especially proud of Yavapai County’s 84 percent voter turnout, which was the highest in Arizona and well above the state average of 74 percent.

Polk doubted a referendum similar to Proposition 205 would be on the ballot in the next election. With former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions [R-Ala.] as the new attorney general of the United States, Polk said she expects national support for marijuana to decrease. Sessions has been a vehement opponent of marijuana; according to NBC News, he once said he thought of the Ku Klux Klan as “OK, until I found out they smoked pot.”

Polk anticipates that new data coming from states such as Colorado or Washington, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012, will confirm opponents’ concerns about an increase in use by youth or decreasing road safety due to impaired drivers. However, studies have shown that the legalization of recreational marijuana has had little detrimental effect. In 2015, three years after Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment conducted a survey among 17,000 middle and high school students and compared the results to numbers from 2009. Students who had used marijuana within the last 30 days declined from 25 percent to 21.2 percent, while the those who had used at least once in lifetime decreased from 43 percent to 38 percent. The department concluded legalization so far had little to no effect on teen use.

Regarding road safety, studies by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have shown that driving impairment and the level of concentration of tetrahyrdocannabinol — the ingredient mainly responsible for the effect of marijuana on a human’s system — could not be directly linked, unlike the concentration of alcohol. Based on these findings, a study by the Drug Policy Alliance published in October concluded that “tests for THC concentration in the blood only show whether a driver has used marijuana within the past few hours, days or weeks; they do not objectively establish whether the driver is impaired and unsafe to drive.”

Generally, alcohol is still a significantly bigger problem than marijuana. A survey by the Colorado Department of Public Safety in March found that 15 percent of DUI summons issued by the Colorado State Patrol in 2015 were marijuana-related, that number was 81 percent for alcohol.

Polk’s main concern was the use of marijuana by youth in Yavapai County. She claimed that since the legalization of medical marijuana in 2010, medical cards have made it easier for teens to acquire access to the drug. She cited a study that showed 17.7 percent of youth were able to obtain marijuana with another person’s medical card.

According to the study, the majority of teens got marijuana from friends. Other numbers from this study also alarmed Polk: In 2016, roughly 70 percent of surveyed youth did not think marijuana was risky or harmful. Polk also claimed that drug offenses were the most common committed offense by youth and that the involvement of marijuana was the case in 80 percent of those offenses.

The main reasons for marijuana use among youth in Yavapai County, according to the study, was to have fun or to combat stress ensuing from school or parents. Reasons for not using included no interest, parental disappointment and the fear of being arrested.

Regarding initiatives to combat the use of drugs among youth, Polk pointed to counseling opportunities, the approach of not punishing, but rehabilitating offenders at juvenile detention centers, and the implementation of the Good Behavior Game at schools, which was sponsored by MATForce and the Arizona Community Foundation and is designed to teach students self-regulating behavior.

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