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Addiction counselor Kristie Spooner and Luke Niforatos, chief of staff and senior policy adviser for the national group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, hold a sign about a new group that has formed to fight legalizing recreational marijuana in North Dakota. Spooner is chairwoman of the organization. Barry Amundson / Forum News Service

ND group forms to point out negative health effects of recreational marijuana

FARGO — As a parent and grandparent, Kristie Spooner has two roles that pushed her to help form a group that opposes the recreational marijuana measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Called "Healthy & Productive North Dakota Against Measure 3," she said her organization is focused on the health effects and other dangers of marijuana.

Spooner also said she knows firsthand about the health risks of marijuana from her job as an addiction counselor in Fargo.

"A lot of people don't know it's an addictive drug," said Spooner, who is chairwoman of the group. "I've watched many people have their lives ruined and seen families left behind."

She's mostly concerned about the possible effects on children, as well as drugged driving, which she feels could worsen if the measure is approved.

The industry in states that have approved the measure, she said, are also selling edible forms of marijuana and they are being packaged as candies such as lollipops and gummy bears.

She fears those products could end up in the hands of children, perhaps by accident.

Luke Niforatos, chief of staff and senior policy adviser for the national group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, joined Spooner in Fargo on Tuesday, Oct. 9, to hold press conferences and announce the formation of the group.

Niforatos said the marijuana industry is targeting youth through those candies and a variety of other measures, including advertisements.

As for drugged driving, he said it has become a more serious problem in states that have legalized marijuana and added there's not a viable roadside testing process to determine if a person is under the influence.

When asked about conflicting statistics on marijuana usage among teens and drugged driving, Niforatos said there are "no final answers" on many of the issues surrounding marijuana.

Although there are known to be some medicinal benefits, Niforatos said there still needs to be more studies on how it affects the human brain, other health impacts, and what regulations and laws may be the most beneficial.

He also said another key point is that many people don't know the potency or levels of THC in marijuana being sold is increasing.

"It's not the same marijuana as in the days of Woodstock," he said, adding studies are underway to address the effect of the increased potency.

"It doesn't hurt the state to wait on the issue and wait to see what the research finds. We have nothing to lose by waiting, but we have everything to lose by rushing to approve it," Niforatos said.

"There are just no final answers to many of the issues surrounding marijuana," he said.

Spooner believes there definitely are are some health risks. She lists those as the danger to the lungs by the smoke, cognitive losses of eight to 10 IQ points and motivational issues.

"Usage can lead to a lack of desire and drive," she said.

In her work on recovery issues from alcohol to drugs, Spooner said those who do get clean and sober can't believe how much different things look and how much energy and motivation they can find.

"They begin to get some things done," she said.

Spooner said with North Dakota's high rate of binge drinking and the opioid crisis, "why add one more piece to the problem of addiction?"

Spooner and Niforatos, who works out of Arlington, Va., said besides billboards they are putting up in Fargo and Bismarck, the group is also planning public events and social media advertising.

The two said they don't want people who use marijuana to be put in jail or prison, but they don't want recreational marijuana more readily available.

And if Measure 3 does pass, Spooner simply said she will fight for a variety of regulations in the Legislature and find ways to keep marijuana out of the hands of children.

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