People will talk: Be ready for wide ‘societal debate’ during narrow ‘pot’ deliberation

Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz spoke Monday of the “societal debate” that is likely to come from any future discussion of marijuana dispensary registration that comes before City Council.

In Cascade Locks, the City Council moved one step closer than Hood River toward taking a vote on whether or not to enact a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

It’s a complex issue (see page A1 article) and the vagueness of some parts of the new state law allowing dispensaries does not help jurisdictions’ efforts to make sense of it all.

Combine the legal labyrinth with the fact that the use of marijuana is a true hot-button issue, especially with its legalization just across the river from us in Washington state.

Legalization, let alone decriminalization, is likely to always remain a divisive issue, no matter where you stand on the science behind marijuana and its impacts.

“I want to draw a line. There are some things I don’t want my kids to mess around with. There are some things I don’t want in my society,” Joella Dethman of the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families told Hood River council Monday. Her initial purpose in speaking to the council was to advocate for alignment of rules and regulations for dispensaries once they are in place, for the county and the cities of Hood River and Cascade Locks.

But Dethman also pleaded the case against the existence of the narcotic for any reason.

“We set rules on what we want and don’t want. We have more mental health issues, more poverty, more unrest in general in our society. If we don’t take a look at what effects we have now on the next generation I think we’re remiss.”

Dethman comes from a place of experience and knowledge of how substances affect communities. The fact that she felt compelled to address legal acceptance at the same time she decried marijuana’s very existence points to the “societal debate” conundrum facing the two cities and the county as they put the topic on their respective agendas.

Just as people can’t resist praising or vilifying certain big box merchants in a hearing that officially is limited to a narrow zoning or permitting scope, so will marijuana supporters and opponents be generally unable to avoid speaking in a public meeting about the limited topic of a moratorium versus their beliefs about the values or ills of marijuana.

Some people will want to say that marijuana should be outlawed in every case. Others will argue on behalf of medical availability while still others will use the opportunity to speak for public acceptance of decriminalization and for allowing “recreational” use. None of this has anything to do with the question of whether or not to pass moratoriums locally.

However, given that the jurisdictions are talking in an official way about marijuana for the first time in memory, it’s probably a good idea for the three elected bodies to grant people voices that go off-topic. Let it out now. And people of all opinions should be ready to listen. It will be healthier in the long run.

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