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Ralph Reiland

Ralph R. Reiland: Blowing smoke

| Monday, April 30, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

I was just beginning to write this column when eight people in nearby Brentwood Towne Square were being rushed to hospitals after a man, 58, plowed his Dodge Charger into the BoRics salon, injuring himself and seven other people, including customers and hair stylists.

Two of the injured, including the driver, were listed in critical condition.

“Allegheny County homicide detectives are investigating the crash,” reported the Tribune-Review's Natasha Lindstrom, “which they say they believe may be related to the driver having a medical condition or being under the influence of alcohol.”

Within an hour of the breaking news about the accident, I received an email linking the crash to my recent Tribune-Review column — “Can medical marijuana's effects really all be positive?” — in which I expressed some skepticism about the supposed lack of any downside effects associated with the legalization of medical marijuana.

“About the fellow driving through the hair salon tonight in Brentwood,” said the emailer, “it's more likely he was on Yuengling or Jack Daniel's than a marijuana brownie or a medically warranted and state-authorized dose of cannabis.”

Maybe so, but there's still a legitimate debate about the costs and benefits of the state's legalization of medical marijuana and whether the negative societal impacts have been pooh-poohed while the alleged upside effects have been widely trumpeted and overestimated.

The sales pitch, for example, that says a few decriminalized weed-growers are going to be the new Carnegie and Frick who deliver an economic rebirth to the Mon Valley seems a bit like some pot-laced pie in the sky.

“A Pennsylvania town that lost its steel industry 25 years ago hopes a new medical marijuana facility will bring economic revitalization according to a March 12, 2017 article” in a local paper, states a March 13 pro-pot economic development article in MJI News: Marijuana Industry News. “Braddock, Penn., lost its steel industry more than 25 years ago and since has been considered a financially distressed community under Pennsylvania's Act 47. The act requires state oversight of municipalities with substantial financial difficulties.”

With the possibility of a medical-marijuana facility being upbeat news for the town, reports MJI News, “Laurel Green Medical of Sewickley, Penn., wants to obtain one of the two medical marijuana licenses for growing and processing medical pot in the region. If Laurel Green Medical obtains the license, company officials want to build a 100,000-square-foot space in Braddock” that would, at full throttle, “grow 17,000 plants and provide 20,000 pounds of medical marijuana and 3,000 pounds of oil each year, according to Greg Gamet of Denver Consulting Group, which would oversee the growing operation.”

Additionally, reports MJI News, the Braddock pot operation “would employ 40-70 people and bring an estimated $1 million in tax revenue for Braddock.”

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman delivered the official buoyancy and hopefulness with this quote in a local paper: “The demise of one industry, steel, put us in Act 47 and a new industry, medical marijuana, could pull us out of Act 47.”

As Bill Clinton said about marijuana, “I didn't inhale it, and never tried it again.”

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur.

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