City council should just say yes to pot

H

ere I go, writing about something I never imagined I would write about: 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. I’ve also asked a few family members who live in Colorado if they’ve witnessed any serious problems since legalization, and the ones that I surveyed said that they have not, and this is coming from people who have no interest in partaking.

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’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug is misguided and wrong, and the more I learn about the drug war, the cartel and the criminal justice system, the more I realize that this legalization thing matters. It’s something wrong with our system that is worth correcting. 

So I was pleased when Colorado made marijuana legal and I was pleased when Alaska followed. I realize 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.

Right now, Homer is experiencing legal cannabis growing pains. 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. Cannabis is here to stay. To me, opting out is just a way for the city to take a moral stance on the issue.

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. 

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 and older will make it more difficult for kids to get their hands on it. 

Are people afraid that a few retail cannabis shops will attract a bad type of person to town? There are many problems with this kind of thinking. First, it requires defining a bad type of person. But the truth of the matter is that all kinds of people use marijuana: young adults who are looking for adventure, professionals, parents of young children and senior citizens, to name a few. One cannot define a person’s character by whether or not they use cannabis.

I think the city council’s struggle to make a decision on whether or not to allow cannabis related businesses in Homer has to do with the fact that a number of people are uncomfortable accepting the new legal status of marijuana. In my opinion, discomfort should not be a factor in this decision. I’m uncomfortable with Mixed Martial Arts fighting. I’m uncomfortable with certain religious beliefs. 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, activities and products. 

ostly I’m concerned about the City of Homer making a moral judgment concerning cannabis. It is not the place of a city to set moral standards. Let churches set guidelines for their parishioners. Let parents set rules for their children. Let adults figure out where they stand on the use of marijuana and alcohol. 

If residents of the Lower Kenai Peninsula don’t want to support cannabis-related establishments in Homer, they don’t have to. If there is no market, the businesses will likely shut 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. 

I also 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 streets in good working condition. We need to work on keeping Homer an attractive place to live. All of these things take money. 

Like it or not, marijuana is already a part of the culture of Homer. It has been purchased, traded, grown and consumed here for decades. This is nothing new. What is new is that the City of Homer now has the opportunity to use legal cannabis to its advantage. 

My hope is that the city council can come to a decision to allow cannabis businesses within Homer city limits without having to take this to a costly and contentious citywide vote. 

Teresa Sundmark has lived and worked in the Homer area for 22 years.

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