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Colorado's recreational pot: social experiment or strategic plan?op/edop/ed

By: Michael J. Long
September 13, 2015 Updated: September 13, 2015 at 4:25 am
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photo - DANA SUMMERS, TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES
DANA SUMMERS, TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES 

At Arrow Electronics, we work and think five years out. We focus our attention on the near future, where we can turn possibility into practicality. This approach helps to explain why Arrow is the largest company in Colorado, and it can give us a positive way to think about the future of our state. It's a way of thinking that can help individuals (i.e., where would you like to be in five years?), families, cities, states, our nation . the world. And it raises the question: Were voters thinking five years out when marijuana was legalized for use in Colorado? Maybe, but I'm not so sure.

I love Colorado, and it is a terrific place to do business. Like life itself, businesses thrive in stable climates. Communities that value a vibrant business environment understand the value of proper planning. While companies can succeed even when the rules are unbalanced, complex or otherwise challenging, one thing that really kills business is a situation where the rules change in an environment that can't be reasonably anticipated or predicted. That's one of the main reasons why emerging countries struggle in advancing their economies.

Whether you're in favor of legalized marijuana or against it, for many businesses this issue looked like it was more of a social experiment than a well-thought-out and reasonable, predictable societal change. If there's ever a perception that experiments are being run in Colorado rather than strategic plans, it will be tough for our state to attract and retain businesses that are all simply looking for stability.

I sincerely hope that medical science someday finds a way for marijuana to relieve suffering (as may be the case for glaucoma or seizures). But when the Colorado electorate compassionately voted in favor of the usage of marijuana for medical care, I think that a loophole was unintentionally opened for medical cards to be issued to some individuals who really didn't have chronic pain as much as they sought legal cover for their recreational use. And shouldn't questions regarding the medical efficacy of marijuana be better handled by medical professionals (or government agencies like the FDA) than the Colorado electorate? It became apparent that the law was being used outside of its medical intent. In that case, why didn't the electorate just vote on recreational use in the first place? From the outside, this process looked more like bait and switch than an honest dialogue.

When decisions are made for our community like those relating to marijuana use, it helps to look at these issues holistically. For example, these days a ballot initiative is being considered that would allow a college-bound student access to additional financial support for college. On its own, I support that idea. But if there's an increase in the number of underage students in our state using marijuana, I'm not sure that this financial support is as appropriate. However, if we don't provide taxpayer tuition support for students using marijuana, we may end up hurting students who are drug-free. This is just one example; I'm concerned that these marijuana laws have produced unforeseen negative consequences for other excellent initiatives that we might want to pursue in our state.

At Arrow, we are proud to do business with the federal government of the United States of America. As a federal contractor, we have to certify that Arrow is a drug-free workplace. In order to comply, we make all job offers contingent upon the successful completion of a drug test. I am aggrieved every time a talented applicant loses a great position with Arrow because his or her drug test result comes back positive for marijuana use. They say, "But it's legal in Colorado," which really doesn't help when we have told other employees, governments, shareholders and significant trade partners that our workplace is drug-free. When voters passed these laws, was it considered that drug-test failures at companies like Arrow might rise and that future career opportunities might be jeopardized?

When voters approved these laws, did the electorate intend to create a large emerging industry that could only trade in cash? What about neighboring states that have sued Colorado? Did voters really want to say that Colorado will follow certain federal laws but not others? Was there a discussion about the problems posed by edibles? Or the safety of our children and citizens? Or consider who might be moving to our state to support their habit? Is there really a bright future for Colorado in the recreational drug trade?

I just get the sense that all of this was moved forward without really thinking it through.

So, what is to be done about this? The next couple of years will tell. But before making similar decisions on this issue and others in the future, I hope that, for the sake of our businesses, our community, our families and our children, as a state we really start to sharpen our thinking five years out.

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Michael J. Long is chairman, president and CEO of Arrow Electronics Inc. Arrow is headquartered in Centennial.

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