Marijuana law doesn’t look like a winning proposition

The state’s going to pot, and now the question is whether Sweet Home is.

This week’s City Council meeting took place after we went to press, but indications were that it was going to be lively. Newly elected Councilmember Jeff Goodwin’s proposed ordinance to ban the sale, possession and use of marijuana in the city, reported in our April 1 edition, prompted a rather spirited response in last week’s Letters to the Editor column.

The issue may be a little thorny, since 53 percent of Linn County voted against Measure 91, which legalized recreational marijuana use. As a matter of fact, only six counties east of the Willamette River and only one east of the Cascades, Deschutes, voted in favor of legalized pot.

We understand that this change of purpose towards marijuana makes a lot of local residents, particularly those who opposed Measure 91, uncomfortable and unhappy. For others, it likely is producing more of a state of euphoria.

We like what Jeff Goodwin brings to the table as a new council member: law degree, business training, background in Scouting, an interest in our youth. He brings fresh perspectives to the council that we think will be good for Sweet Home’s future.

But on this one, we think he’s barking up the wrong tree, despite the fact that many local residents doubtless are very sympathetic to his intentions.

The fact is, thanks to a statewide vote, some form of legal pot beyond the tightly controlled medicinal opportunities already available, is inevitable at this point, and attempting to stop it is likely going to be tilting at windmills, an exercise that could easily waste precious tax dollars at a time funding for our local law enforcement is already incredibly tight.

We recognize that, despite the optimism of marijuana proponents, pot has a downside. Its effects are often unpredictable and can vary widely from person to person. It can have tremendous benefits for some people when used medicinally; it can do nothing or even have detrimental effects for others in the same circumstances.

“Different people can experience different effects,” said Dan Bristow, a leader of the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association, last week in a statement sent to media organizations.

There are questions about whether it is addictive, how much it impairs people, whether it is a “gateway drug” to more potent – and illegal – substances, etc.

There is certainly a tension between law and liberty on this issue. The law, all the way back to our Declaration of Independence, on one hand, permits the pursuit of happiness, but it also is tasked with maintaining public safety.

It’s hard to see the two meeting anywhere very conveniently.

We see some positives to legalizing pot. Chief among them is economic. The War on Drugs creates opportunities for high-risk black-market profits, which is why people make money selling pot on the streets of Sweet Home. Our society has coddled and enabled the drug class – feeding, housing and clothing them through welfare programs or disability payments, while they spend whatever they can earn or steal on overly expensive black market drugs, including marijuana.

Whether the use of drugs, particularly marijuana, actually causes crime is a question we can’t answer, but we believe the economics associated with black markets breeds criminal activity and if those markets are gone, we’d like to think some of the incentive to pilfer local residents’ belongings or steal their cars will be lessened.

What seems more likely is that the average stoner will be inclined to sit around and gorge him- or herself on Cap’n Crunch while high, rather than knock over a convenience store.

The upside, of course, is less police time spent busting people for having a joint in their pants pocket and, hopefully, giving them more time to crack down on the more serious drugs being circulated and abused within our community.

Having said all that, the potential dire effects on individuals we’ve mentioned earlier is certainly a concern, just as is irresponsibility associated with the use of alcohol. Liberty requires responsibility. On a personal level, we aren’t going to encourage the use of any substance that impairs people’s ability to be productive and responsible.

Legalized pot is not the prettiest picture in the world, and we aren’t overly optimistic that everything is going to work out just fine. We’ve seen the difficulties Washington and Colorado have had with their pot legalization, and it stands to reason that Oregon will have its own challenges. After all, we’re human, prone to excess in one way or another.

But from a legal and practical standpoint, we don’t see a lot of benefit – other than moral – in drawing a line in the sand that likely won’t stay there long. Ultimately, it does not look like a battle Sweet Home will win.

Goodwin should withdraw his proposed ordinance, if the council doesn’t vote on April 14 against placing it on the agenda.