Friday, October 15, 2010

Medical Marijuana - A Conservative Conundrum

The issue of medical marijuana, in particular the presence of dispensaries, has been a contentious issue here in the Grand Junction area, as well as elsewhere across the state.

I haven't personally seen the negative effects of dispensaries in and of themselves. Instead, I see the questionable proliferation of patients that qualify for medical marijuana under the auspices of Amendment 20. The actions of some of these 'patients' in obtaining their marijuana, and providing it others who are not patients, is for me the main potential cause for concern. 

The dispensaries are a free-market consequence of President Obama's stated intent not to pursue dispensaries operating legally under state law, and the aforementioned proliferation of 'patients' seeking 'treatment'. In fairness, it's possible that the dispensaries have contributed to the ease with which some have been able to obtain the necessary physician evaluation and certification. 

It's been interesting to follow the debate regarding the County's decision to put the continued presence of dispensaries to a vote of the people, as well as the City of Grand Junction's decision not to. If the pro-dispensary crowd decides to protest the City's ordinance via a provision in the City Charter, then it's quite possible that the City could have a dispensary vote down the road as well. 

Living in a predominantly conservative community like Grand Junction, I expected these cautious approaches as a matter of course. Our law enforcement leaders, led by our county Sheriff, have all come out in public as opposed to the presence of dispensaries, and our leading local newspaper has editorialized the same position as well.

There was one notable exception to the chorus of those opposed to the ban; Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland. In a Sentinel op-ed she defended the presence of dispensaries primarily on constitutional grounds, and voted against a referendum on their continued existence. 

I initially thought what appeared to be a reasoned, thoughtful approach by our local government officials was what one would expect from the citizens and leaders of a predominantly conservative community. 

Then I read some of the things coming out of Colorado Springs.  

In what is perhaps our state's most conservative political environment, the county Sheriff is in favor of well-regulated dispensaries as a deterrent to illicit sales in neighborhoods. There is an initiative on the El Paso County ballot to ban dispensaries, which the Sheriff does not support. The Colorado Springs Gazette also encouraged a "no" vote, citing the following:
Medical marijuana retailers have brought order to mayhem and are providing a substantial boost in sales tax revenues to county government. Before the proliferation of medical marijuana stores, which are taxed and regulated, all marijuana sales were conducted on the black market. Sheriff Terry Maketa has said a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries would result in more illegal sales, in neighborhoods, which would be more difficult to police. It’s hard to find a good reason to support a ban.
The Gazette also commended Sheriff Maketa for what it termed an honorable stand toward the issue of dispensaries: 
All over Colorado, leading cops and prosecutors have done their best to close medical marijuana stores. None has explained how banning taxpaying, regulated dispensaries will prevent the enrichment of the old black market trade that devours public resources and despises medical marijuana stores. Most just know that opposing the stores may appear anti-drug to the electorate.
Despite the fact that nearly everyone else in top law enforcement publicly hates marijuana stores, Maketa spoke truth. He said a ban would push the trade out of business parks and into neighborhoods, creating difficulties for law enforcement.
“It could create a bigger problem and more unintended consequences,” Maketa said.
I'm wondering out loud now why this approach to dispensaries in the Springs is so radically different from that espoused in Grand Junction. Aside from the presence of a popular Sheriff who has some different ideas, maybe there is a different brand of conservatism at work there - one that places greater emphasis on personal responsibility and freedom from government interference than other areas, with the expected result in lean economic times. It almost sounds more Libertarian than conservative, except that the seeming approach to dispensaries there is to tax and regulate them, not just leave them to their own devices, or ban them outright.
The citizens of Colorado Springs and surrounding areas are getting what they pay for, thanks in part to their refusal of a property tax increase last November. Whether that payment comes in the form of private donations to get the sprinklers turned on at a City park, or citizens mowing the grass in that park in between infrequent visits from the parks department, it's still something quite different from other areas like Grand Junction that bear the label 'conservative'. In Grand Junction and Mesa County the grass in the parks is still the desert. I guess there's something to be said for that.

In this election season, the differences illustrated above are that much more proof of an essential truth that gets lost in the hysterical rhetoric that pollutes the airwaves this time of year:

Effective, responsive government resists labels.

Here's one label that doesn't make any sense to me; "Tax and spend" is what governments do to provide services. Fiscal responsibility is written into Colorado's constitution - budgets must be balanced. Prudent allocation of available resources is a job I wouldn't want and couldn't do on the scale that responsible government leaders contend with every day. 

At the same time, I'm wondering about the future direction of the conservative movement in Colorado, and the rest of the country, in the wake of the rise of the Tea Party in Republican Party politics, as well as other elements that stand to further alter the composition of the GOP in current and future election cycles. The Democrats will need to remain on their toes, even as they heal from what is looking like a worse-than-usual midterm election.

The dichotomy between Colorado's two conservative strongholds on how to address medical marijuana stands as testimony to me of a struggle for identity that is just getting started. 

Have a good weekend. 

1 comment:

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