Here I go, writing about something I never imagined I would write about on this blog: the legalization of cannabis, marijuana, weed, pot. It’s something I haven’t cared much about in the past, but I care about it now for a number of reasons.
As I watched my home state of Colorado decide whether or not to legalize marijuana, I listened to the arguments both for and against. I began to educate myself both to the true nature of the plant and to reasons it was deemed illegal in the first place. Since its legalization, I’ve asked a few family members who live in Colorado if they’ve witnessed any serious problems and the ones I surveyed said that they have not. This is coming from people who have no interest in partaking themselves. I do realize that there are plenty of others who may feel differently.
For me, the strongest argument for legalization has to do with justice. Too many people are spending time in jail for cannabis related crimes and more often than not it’s not the middle class or rich users that are getting caught, but the poor, the minorities, the ones who, for whatever reason, the police are watching closely. The more I read the more I realize that marijuana being classified as a Schedule 1 drug is completely misguided and wrong, and the more I learn about the drug war, the cartel, the criminal justice system, the more I realize that this legalization thing matters. It’s something wrong with our system that is worth correcting.
I was pleased when Colorado made marijuana legal and I was pleased when Alaska followed. That being said, I know that legalization is not an easy process. There are rules that need to be sorted out and there are long held misconceptions that need to be addressed. I also know that legalizing cannabis is not a comfortable notion for everyone. I respect that this is going to take some time.
Homer is in the smack dab middle of these legal cannabis growing pains and right now a great deal of time and energy is being spent on the decision of whether or not to allow commercial cannabis operations within city limits. I know it’s within the city’s rights to opt out, but personally I don’t see any advantage to doing so. Opting out would keep the city from gaining any tax revenue that might come from cannabis enterprises, but it would not keep cannabis out. To me, opting out is just a way for the city to take some imaginative moral stance.
I imagine a welcome sign on the edge of town, one that a visitor might see after stopping outside of city limits at a retail cannabis shop:
Welcome to the Halibut Capital of the World. We’ll gladly take your money for as much booze as you can buy, but we don’t want your pot dollars. We’re above all that.
Welcome to the Halibut Capital of the World. We used to have a well-funded fire department and library, but our superior morality prevents us from getting revenue from a regulated cannabis industry. Instead we are desperately looking for other ways to fleece you.
Welcome to the Halibut Capital of the World. Here we will let you use as many plastic bags as you want because we believe in your freedom to use them, but we don’t believe in all freedom. Here we have decided for you what legal substances you may purchase. (If you live in Homer, you know about the plastic bag ban controversy of a couple of years ago.)
I know I’m being sarcastic here, but honestly, what is it that people are afraid of when it comes to marijuana? Are they afraid that kids will have access to it? If that’s the case, then they must not realize just how readily available it already is. If anything, regulating it and having retail cannabis shops for those 21 years and older will make it more difficult for kids to get their hands on it. Have you heard what happens when adults get caught providing alcohol to kids? They get in serious trouble. Lessening the demand in the black market will likely make it more difficult for kids to buy and sell pot, but then again, maybe it won’t. It’s legal to grow marijuana, and kids who really want it will probably always be able to get it. It’s a fact, like it or not. Just the way that kids who want to have sex in their teens will likely go about their business whether we like it or not. What we can do is educate them, supervise them, and give them some decent alternatives as to how to spend their time.
Are people afraid that a few retail cannabis shops will attract a bad type of person to town? I suppose that requires defining a bad type of person. Homer has always been a place where young people come to live and work on the Spit for the summer and I am fairly certain that those who want it can find an ample supply of marijuana here. Having a legal way to purchase marijuana will mean that those young people who come to town are less likely to get in trouble, and if they aren’t getting in trouble then maybe they aren’t a bad type of person. See how that works?
I think that what the issue of cannabis in city limits comes down to is that there are still a number of people who are uncomfortable with the fact that it’s legal. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that MMA fighting is legal. I’m uncomfortable with a number of different religions. I’m uncomfortable with Hummers and Big Gulps and violent video games. But I recognize that these things are legal. I respect that individuals can make their own choices in regards to these legal entities and products. I am morally opposed to them and yet I realize that we live in place where people can make the choice to partake in things that I don’t necessarily approve of.
Mostly I’m afraid of the City of Homer taking a moral stand. It is not the place of a city to set moral standards. Let the churches set rules for their parishioners. Let parents set rules for their children. Let adults figure out where they stand on the use of marijuana and alcohol. I realize that the legality of marijuana is new and that means we are stepping into new territory. But it seems a shame to prevent a few rule-following entrepreneurs from running regulated cannabis businesses within city limits. If residents of the Lower Kenai Peninsula don’t want to support those establishments, they don’t have to. If there is no market for those legal cannabis businesses, then they’ll likely close down after a time. If however, there is a demand for their services and products, the City of Homer will gain some much needed tax revenue.
To end this discussion about the legality of cannabis in Homer, I want to suggest that the City of Homer has bigger problems to worry about than a few legal cannabis related businesses in town. We are a town in a state that is facing a huge budget crisis, a budget crisis so big that we can scarcely imagine what’s in store for us over the next several years. We need to think about diversifying our revenue sources. We need to become less reliant on the oil money that has sustained us for so many years. We need to think of ways to keep our police and fire departments well staffed and well funded. We need to keep the doors to our library open because as money gets tight for more families–and it will–people will need the resources it offers. In short, the City of Homer needs to make some money.
Marijuana is going to be a part of our culture whether we are morally in favor of it or opposed to it. The difference is not in whether or not cannabis is going to be here, the difference is that now the City of Homer has the opportunity to use its legality to its advantage.
My hope is that the city council can come to a decision to allow cannabis industries within the city limits without having to take this to a citywide vote. If they can’t, then I hope the city residents will vote to make it so.