Try a moderate approach, for a change


Despite the fact Colorado and Archuleta County voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing limited recreational use and commercial sale of marijuana, the controversy over what to do with weed continues.

In Pagosa Country, it is no surprise when elected officials find a hurried and extreme way to deal with an issue, and pot highlights the situation as clearly as any.

Moratoriums in town and county have been extended. The moratoriums were implemented to control (county) or ban (town) medical marijuana dispensaries. No moratorium is needed for pending commercial operations since regulations at the state level have not yet been approved, but why not make the move anyway, useless though it is?

Now the question is what to do once regulations are in place.

In town, opponents on the council line up on two fronts: 1) Look at the situation as a possible economic benefit and, 2) No marijuana outlets in town, ever!

Both positions are mistaken and, if elected officials could cleave to the middle ground, few problems would arise.

Those who argue that legalization of use and commercial distribution of marijuana for adults will be of economic benefit have not read proposed regulations. With limited amounts set for commercial exchanges, and no allowances for establishments that permit consumption, there is little chance for more than minimal local revenue. The problem is whether regulations will be so tight that capitalism prevails, with the black market undercutting commercial prices and winning the day. If this occurs, we are back at ground zero, with an inept War on Drugs and a corporate prison industry that have accomplished little in decades and wasted billions of dollars that could have been spent productively elsewhere.

Those who say, “No marijuana, ever” often make the claim based on questionable premises. There is the persistent moralistic stance that seeks to deny any pleasure but what the moralist prescribes, and we have ample evidence concerning the effectiveness of prohibition. There are those who say legalization will increase use in the county, though it would be difficult to increase use from what it was the day of the vote on Amendment 64. There is an argument based on the notion that commercial outlets will repel tourists coming from more conservative parts of the country — a matter of “image.”

As with all hypotheses, this demands a test. And the hypothesis must be measured against a proven fact — one that elected officials would be wise to consider, including  “conservatives” who too often oppose individual rights and responsibility, and deny the evidence of a democratic process.

That fact: On Nov. 6, 2012, 83 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in Archuleta County. Of those voters, 55.6 percent voted in favor of Amendment 64.

We believe there is a way to deal with the “image problem” as well as serve the will of the electorate (a will we think would be on the order of 75/25 were the Amendment 64 vote taken again in five years). Attitudes and demographic are changing, the people have spoken. Find a way to allow for minimal, commercial distribution. The council has it in its power, as does the BoCC, to use zoning and signage regulations to limit the number of establishments and ensure their visibility does not detract from our “image,” whatever that might be.

If need be, bring a revision of the federal law section of the town charter to a vote. Make a moderate move, test the results.

A suggestion: heed the will of constituents and find a compromise solution to what might not be a problem after all.

Give it a try. A similar approach might work in other instances as well.

Karl Isberg