Split on spliffs

Ballots are in the mail, and Fruita voters will decide on April 1 whether to authorize their city government to establish retail marijuana operations within the city limits.

The Daily Sentinel’s editorial board has adopted a “wait and see” position on the merits of legal pot, arguing that it will take some time to evaluate the impact on the communities that choose to regulate its sale.

But we decided to re-examine that stance, acknowledging that the state’s new marijuana law is affecting every community in Colorado — even the Grand Valley, where there are no retail pot shops.

The heightened availability of the drug has already impacted schools. Expulsions are up based on a higher incidence of possession on school grounds.

In effect, we’re dealing with the downside of the state’s marijuana experiment, but with no upside in the form of tax revenues.

And the revenues are substantial. The governor has already sent the Legislature a $134 million proposal for spending recreational and medical marijuana money.

Is it time for a more pragmatic stance that seeks to make the best of a bad situation? Should we encourage Fruita voters to vote “yes” on Referred Issue A in the upcoming election?

The board is divided on the issue. Proponents point to Palisade’s medical marijuana dispensary as an important source of revenue to the town that hasn’t strained law enforcement resources. They cite a subtle shift in the public’s attitude toward marijuana — a growing acceptance that puts it on par with alcohol consumption.

Is it inconsistent to promote the Colorado Mountain Winefest or local microbreweries and not embrace retail marijuana?

Opponents say the tax revenue argument doesn’t factor in the extra costs of regulating sales — that more revenue will be offset by higher enforcement costs. They say a local retail shop will only make a bad situation in the schools worse, not only in terms of increased access, but because of the tacit message it sends: Pot must be OK if it can be legally purchased.

And opponents wonder if retail pot could put the community at a competitive disadvantage in the economic development arena. Would some companies shy away from doing business in a pro-marijuana community?

Advocates of legal marijuana have argued that regulating and taxing the drug is a better alternative to America’s costly war on drugs.

Colorado is the nation’s laboratory to test this hypothesis.We’re in the midst of a national experiment, whether we like it or not.

The editorial board is no closer to a consensus on the issue than it was before it started deliberations. But we agree that there’s no harm in waiting to see how the experiment plays out elsewhere before we commit to a specific recommendation in our own backyard. We’re barely two and half months into this brave new world.

The bottom line is that Fruita voters will decide the issue, and rightfully so. We think in this instance the referendum process is the appropriate vehicle to decide an issue with a big potential impact on the community.


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