Not in My Backyard: Klamath County Association Opposes Cannabis Measure

On April 8, the Klamath County Economic Development Association formally opposed Ballot Measure 18-105 — which would grant licenses to cannabis-related businesses in the area. Greg O'Sullivan, executive director, estimates the association represents 2,000 employees, nearly 10% of jobs in Klamath County.

Greg OSullivan HeadshotThe group claims a local marijuana industry would "harm education and graduation rates," "negatively impact the Klamath work force," and “make Klamath County a less desirable, and a less competitive location for attracting new businesses to locate in Klamath County."

“It makes sense to wait and see how retail marijuana sales play out in other locations before we allow it in ours,” O’Sullivan states via email.

O'Sullivan explains the association’s resolution against the marijuana measure in the following email Q & A.

Why is it more important to the Klamath County Economic Development Association to maintain the ban on recreational marijuana when the new industry could boost the local economy?

I wouldn’t cede the idea that recreational marijuana will boost the local economy. A few businesses may benefit, but there would be costs imposed on other businesses and the entire Klamath County community.

Likewise, the costs of retail marijuana are borne by the rest of the community. If public safety or health costs increase, if educational attainment or workforce quality decline, if homelessness and transiency rise or the perceived quality of life in Klamath County falls, then naturally, the whole community bears those costs.

What challenges has the association’s campaign encountered?

The major challenge is that despite legalization in other states, the issue is still very new. There is less data than it would seem regarding the impacts that legalization has on business communities. As a state and a nation, we already have difficulty with labor shortages. We do not want to exacerbate an overstretched labor force, and should not hold an expectation for companies to lower their standards. In Klamath, there have been several employers who have expressed that they have had great trouble filling positions due to failed pre-employment drug testing.

You have criticized the marijuana industry, saying that it would create jobs in Klamath County that aren’t favorable to attracting other industries such as manufacturing, tech, agriculture or hospitality. Why exclude the marijuana industry from possible ways to foster economic development?

Economic development in Klamath County is enhanced by a quality workforce and the amenities we offer employers. If employers are not confident they can build a drug-free workforce, they are less likely to relocate to or expand within the county. Likewise, if retail marijuana spoils the old-time charm of our county’s historic downtown areas through increased crime, open use of marijuana in public places, or greater homelessness and transiency, then Klamath County will be viewed as a less attractive place to visit or to live. We find that to be a logical conclusion.

What evidence indicates recreational marijuana use reduces graduation rates as indicated in the resolution?

The short story is that the more marijuana people use, the less likely they are to succeed in school and find a solid job later in life. Marijuana use is associated with dropping out of high school, and later in life there are established connections to lower earnings and higher unemployment.

From the [National Institute on Drug Abuse]: “Marijuana is linked to school failure. Marijuana’s negative effects on attention, memory and learning can last for days and sometimes weeks.” Other research backs these findings. Research published in the journal Health Economics found, “Marijuana use in 10th grade has a similar impact on educational attainment as living in a single parent family or living in a family with an income in the lowest quartile.” Similarly, an analysis published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “changes in test scores across 10th and 12th grade reveal that marijuana use remains statistically associated with a 15% reduction in performance on standardized math tests.”

How would a legal cannabis industry dissuade would-be businesses from choosing Klamath County as a destination?

Site selectors have told us that companies they interact with are finding it difficult to tap into the workforces in areas known for recreational cannabis use – because in those communities, there is a real shortage of the type of workers they need. Paige Webster, an economic development expert who owns Webster Global Site Selectors, came to Klamath last year and interviewed several major employers within the county who told him that drugs continue to be an issue in the business community here. They told him that substance abuse affects the area’s ability to provide a skillful workforce. We don’t see how legalizing marijuana would do anything to remedy that.

What will the association do if the measure is passed?

KCEDA exists to serve the county’s business community, and adapt to all the ways in which that environment can change. If it were to pass, we would make certain to coordinate with marijuana-related businesses and the public sector to ensure systems were put in place that would give the entire business community opportunities to be successful, while also preventing any activity that could be a negative influence to the area.

This interview was edited for brevity.

Jaime Dunkle

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