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Roundup of Oklahoma editorials


Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Sept. 27, 2015

Legalized marijuana certainly no panacea

Advocates for legalizing recreational marijuana argue that shift shouldn't upset people, claiming the drug's use differs little from alcohol consumption. A new report from Colorado suggests that's only true if people are fine with drunk driving and public intoxication of school children.

That report, by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, demonstrates that legalized marijuana's impact in Colorado is not benign. The report examines a wide range of statistics over several years that marijuana became less regulated. In 2006, Colorado legalized "medical" marijuana use. Greater commercialization was unleashed in 2009. And since 2013, full-blown recreational use has been legal.

The impact of those changes can be seen not just in marijuana sales, but also in lives lost and harmed. In 2014, the report notes, there was a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado compared with 2013. Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 92 percent from 2010 to 2014.

In contrast, the increase in all traffic deaths during that time period was just 8 percent. Had it not been for marijuana-related traffic deaths, the state would have experienced a decline in traffic fatalities.

Approximately 20 percent of traffic deaths were marijuana-related in 2014, a figure that has doubled in five years. And that may understate the impact of marijuana in traffic accidents, since drivers who are intoxicated on both alcohol and marijuana are normally tested only for alcohol.

In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated the total economic costs for a vehicle fatality was more than $1.3 million, once you include property damage, medical, insurance, productivity and other considerations. The cost of driving under the influence was estimated at $10,270 per instance.

In other words, driving under the influence of marijuana has major impacts — both moral and economic.

There's reason to think this problem won't go away soon. According to the report, an estimated 485,000 Colorado adults regularly use marijuana. Adults who consume marijuana almost daily make up the top 21.8 percent of that population — but they account for 66.9 percent of the demand for marijuana.

A law that allows more than 100,000 people to consume marijuana daily is going to inevitably lead to many people driving under the influence and increasing the risk to all other citizens on the road.

In 2014, when retail marijuana was unleashed, there was a 38 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations in Colorado. Since 2010, marijuana-related hospitalizations have increased 90 percent.

The report also notes disturbing trends among youth, who are supposedly barred from buying the drug under Colorado law. The report found 11.16 percent of Colorado kids ages 12 to 17 were considered current marijuana users in 2013. That was 56 percent higher than the national average.

In public schools, drug-related suspensions/expulsions increased 40 percent in Colorado between the 2008-09 school year and the 2013-14 school year with the vast majority being marijuana violations.

Colorado was in the top three states ranked by the share of teenagers reporting drug use in the past month in a 2013 survey. By comparison, Oklahoma ranked in the bottom seven states, despite this state's reputation for drug problems.

Proponents claim marijuana legalization merely shifts existing drug use into the open. But Colorado's experience shows that legalization facilitates increased drug consumption in ways that place others' lives at risk and reduce everyone's quality of life. Youth crossed with tragedy are certain outcomes of Colorado's poor decision, and "individual freedoms" will provide little solace to those who suffer the consequences.

Enid News, Sept. 28, 2015

Oklahoma should unload its NORCE property

Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid closed last year, but the property remains a valuable commodity.

Recently, Enid city commissioners talked about the property and possibly acquiring it as a location for future water storage and treatment.

This is not the first time possible new uses for the NORCE property have been discussed. Talk about it started even before the facility was closed. State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, even introduced legislation, which ultimately failed, that would have allowed the state to lease the land to Enid Enid Regional Development Alliance. Unfortunately, the idea didn't get anywhere.

This latest idea came during a recent Enid City Commission study session. City officials have been evaluating the property for terminal water storage, a possible community water feature and a water treatment plant as part of the water pipeline project to receive water from Kaw Lake.

Terminal storage would involve emergency, equalization and ancillary storage. Between 40 and 60 acres of land would be needed for the storage at a cost of between $15 million and $20 million. A community water feature could be incorporated into the storage facility.

Construction of the Kaw Lake pipeline is expected to take five to seven years. The project is slated to cost the city between $200 million and $300 million.

Given the state's financial situation, it makes sense for the state to unload the NORCE property.

Lawmakers had to deal with a $611 million budget shortfall last session when they drew up with the current fiscal year budget.

Next session, which begins in February, the shortfall could be even worse — a result of falling oil prices. Some estimates put it as high as $1 billion.

Regardless of what the revenue figures are, it would be better for the state to lease, sell or give the NORCE property to Enid so it can be used for something than it would for the state to continue to keep the property and allow the facilities there to deteriorate.

Tulsa World, Sept. 29, 2015

No mystery why the library's summer reading program flopped

The Tulsa City-County Library tried something different with its summer reading program this year, and it failed.

For the first time, the summer reading program required every participating child to have an individual library card. Also, the program replaced a paper registration process with an online one.

The changes were a flop. Parents and patrons who bring large groups of children to the library didn't like the idea of managing a bunch of individual cards. Faced with the online registration, some patrons just sighed and walked out, library staff reported.

Participation sank by 51 percent in one year. Library numbers show a 30-year low in the number of children signing up and completing the program.

Tulsa World reporter Ginnie Graham used open records to show library officials knew about the complaints and the nosediving participation numbers, which were posted on an internal library report on a weekly basis.

Nonetheless, after the problem was aired at a library board meeting, CEO Gary Shaffer wrote to his staff that the results were "rather baffling" and promised to "get to the bottom of it." Later in the same memo, Shaffer told his staff that he was leaving on a paid sabbatical for up to three months to finish his doctorate.

In a response to Shaffer's message, Marianne Stambaugh, the library's youth services manager, wrote the CEO that there is no mystery about why the program declined, despite ardent efforts on the part of library staff to help parents and group organizers to adapt to the new requirements.

We have two conclusions from what we have seen:

First, hurrah for the Open Records Act! This is a sterling example of its ability to let the public see behind the scenes of how government is working and not working.

Second, the summer reading program is important, and the library needs to fix it. While we understand the reasons for the changes, they are not worth the damage they caused. The requirement for library cards and online registration should be dropped, and the library needs to figure out how to reach out to the lost participants to begin some much-needed damage control.

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