Dear Editor:

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Edmund Burke’s words have never been more on point than in the debate about marijuana.

I don’t know about you, but I have some questions.

How much of my (our) biases about marijuana and alcohol are emotional, generational or cultural, as opposed to fact?

Did fewer people drink when alcohol was illegal?

Was making a glass of wine with dinner illegal a reasonable infringement on personal liberty?

Was the rise of organized crime, violence, smuggling and loss of tax revenue offset by the hoped-for benefits of prohibition?

When it comes to legalization (or prohibition), is there a fundamental difference between alcohol and marijuana?

Here at home, the county faces other important questions.

Do we effectively “outlaw” a local business type that is legal in Colorado?

How does that align with the principles of liberty and the free market many of us hold?

Do we control and tax marijuana, or let the criminal market continue to dominate?

How important is it to us that Colorado and Archuleta County voters legalized the sale and personal use of marijuana?

Do we align with the clear will of the voters, or not?

What are the real, factual downsides to limited, regulated, legal marijuana sales?

Which is “safer” for our community in this case, legal or illegal commerce?

How will legal marijuana sales impact our tourism economy, or agriculture, or business?

Anyone interested in or engaged in the marijuana issue should read this Cato Institute Policy Analysis on the prohibition of alcohol: http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa157.pdf.

We do not have the luxury of “knee-jerk” decisions here. Thoughtful debate requires actual thought, and open debate. We have not had that yet.

I introduced a draft resolution for the Sept. 17 BoCC meeting establishing a six-month moratorium on retail marijuana licensing, with one six-month extension. Why? The county is not ready to regulate and tax this legal business today.

Unlike the open-ended medical marijuana moratoriums of the past, this moratorium is written specifically to prevent stalling to avoid a hard final decision, and forces us to get the work done, by demanding benchmarks for doing our homework, writing regulations and putting together a local taskforce to sort fact from fear and provide advice. Also, if we decide to move forward, and want a local sales tax on marijuana for pressing needs like roads, we also need the time to prepare the ballot measure that must go to the voters. We can and should take this head-on if we are serious about the issue. But we need a little time to do that.

Michael Whiting

This story was posted on September 5, 2013.