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Views Differ On How Legalizing Marijuana Could Affect Arizona Families

Lisa Olson
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Lisa Olson is a mother of five and a multiple sclerosis patient who’s been using medical marijuana about a year and a half. The Mesa mom says using it has helped her get off all her MS drugs. After seeing that positive effect, she feels pot should be avai

If pot laws were colors, the U.S. map would resemble a tie-dye T-shirt. In some states it’s illegal. In others, it’s legal for medical purposes. And in still others — like Oregon — knock yourself out, as long as you’re 21 or older. This November, Arizona will be one of five states voting on recreational pot.

Up in Oregon, recreational pot has already been legal in Oregon now for a year, but it was a long time coming. Voters approved medicinal pot 20 years ago. In Arizona, things might be going quicker. This upcoming vote on recreational marijuana comes just six years after voters approved it for medical use.

And that makes some voters nervous.

A group that includes two county attorneys even sued, unsuccessfully, to get the measure off the ballot. Then there’s Valley resident Debbie Moak, who put her son in drug rehab when he was 20.

“A lot of these kids who are going to be impacted the most by this, they won’t be voting in this election,” she said. “This is where we need to be the adult in the room and protect the kids.”

Moak said pot led her kid to harder drugs — and to dropping out of college and eventually becoming homeless.

“It tears a family apart. Addiction becomes a disease of the family, and I’ve lived it, in the trenches,” she said. “And I don’t want to see this happen for any other family.”

Moak, who’s 59, said she used to see it pretty much daily, back when she ran a nonprofit aimed at keeping kids off drugs.

Up in Oregon, 60-year-old Martha Holmberg comes at the issue from a completely different direction. The food editor smoked a lot in high school and college, then didn’t touch pot until she finished bringing up her kids.

“I don’t do it with people that I don’t know well,” she said. “But if I’m hanging out with girlfriends or we’re going over to a friend’s house. I will usually bring weed and say: ‘Hey, anybody want to get high?’”

Some do and some don’t.

“And it all flows very comfortably in that situation,” she said. “It’s not like the pot smokers have to go off to the corner.”

For some people in Arizona, that scene would be shocking, but the introduction of medical marijuana here in 2010 made it a lot more palatable for others. That includes Lisa Olson, a mother of five in Mesa who uses pot to deal with her multiple sclerosis.

“Basically, the way we ended up handling it was a lot like alcohol,” she said. “So my kids certainly see me drinking a glass of wine with most dinners. They know that’s not for them. That’s for the adults.”

And she thinks adults should be able to use pot recreationally, too. For someone like Olson, who had always abstained from drugs, that’s quite a revelation — a revelation she’s passed that onto her kids.

Jake Olson, her 20-year-old, said the “just say no” message he got from school wasn’t necessarily true.

“It’s really funny because, you know, most teenagers don’t figure out things like that through their parents,” he said, laughing. “But I am that exception. I am that person who learned that maybe not all bad things are bad, from my parents.

That same kind of acceptance is happening in Oregon, but it’s gradual. Patrick Caldwell, 29, brings cannabis-infused sodas to parties. He might share one at a bachelor party, he said, but not at a family picnic.

“I want my nephews to be able to make their own informed decision about cannabis without being influenced by the fact that I so regularly use it,” he said.

Caldwell thinks people need to respect what they’re getting into. But he hopes that in a few years, bringing pot to a family picnic will be no different than bringing a six pack.

When senior field correspondent Stina Sieg was 22, she moved to the desert. She hasn’t been the same since. At the time, the Northern California native had just graduated from college and was hankering for wide-open spaces. So she took a leap and wrote to nearly every newspaper in New Mexico until one offered her a job. That’s how she became the photographer for a daily paper in the small town of Silver City. And that’s when she realized how much she loved storytelling. In the years since, the beauty of having people open up and share their stories — and trust her to tell them — has never gotten old to Sieg. Before coming to KJZZ, Sieg was also a writer and photographer at newspapers in Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Moab, Utah; and the Smoky Mountains town of Waynesville, North Carolina. She always had her hand in public radio, too, including hosting Morning Edition on a fill-in basis at WNCW in North Carolina. It’s still the best music station she’s found. When she’s not reporting, chances are Sieg is running, baking, knitting or driving to some far-flung town deep in the desert — just to see what it looks like.