By Rev Steve Flecken
The petition for sale of recreational marijuana in Klamath Falls has collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, according to the Herald and News. Proponents are proclaiming victoriously “WE DID IT!” with the hashtag #KLAMATH-STRONG.
A commentary in the July 8 H&N by Ed Medina Jr., chief petitioner and owner of a local medical marijuana dispensary, claims that the pros of recreational pot outweigh the cons and that “there is no downside.”
Let’s pause a moment to remember the bottom line: This debate is about legitimizing intoxication as recreation. We already have medical marijuana available in town. That is not the question. We are now talking about getting high just for fun. In what way is that a victory for our community or a source of strength?
Mr. Medina’s commentary began with a chilling admission: “We know beyond any doubt that what we are doing is in the best interest of this community, and the people in it, even if the people do not understand that.” Whoa! High or sober, that is positively fascist. Why even bother with the November ballot if Mr. Medina and his supporters know better than the voters what is good for Klamath?
Then in a dazzling display of misdirection, the commentary attacks the Gospel Mission. It imagines the new Mission facility will “roll out the red carpet” for “every homeless person on the West Coast riding the rails,” as though this were the 1920s.
Mr. Medina warned us the debate would rely on “mostly outdated, opinion-based and disproven information.” In reality, train security is nearly as big a concern as airplane security in a post-9/11 world, severely curtailing the once-popular method of hitching a ride.
We do agree marijuana is not the primary cause of homelessness, but it certainly is a factor in the cycle of dependency and dysfunction. In our experience, marijuana is one of the biggest influences on those who give up in their recovery process, regressing back into homelessness.
Will the new Gospel Mission facility be “good or bad?” Medina asks, ominously hinting at the worst. Well, many local businesses, churches, individuals, and charitable foundations who supported the project as well as the community leaders, aid agencies, and non-profits that provide assistance to the needy under the Klamath Works umbrella all seem to agree the Mission’s goals of Rescue, Recovery, and Renewal will be well served in the new facility.
Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown, Congressman Greg Walden and other state and national leaders who have expressed support for the Klamath Works initiative also seem to have a positive view of the impact the campus will have on our community. But we didn’t write to address the benefits of sobriety, job-training, or spiritual and physical well-being for individuals and the community as a whole; the question today is whether increased access to recreational marijuana will benefit our town.
The initiative’s proponents argue that legalized marijuana sales are heavily regulated by the state, so illegal use will go down. Hmm. Give that some thought. Since the speed limit on highway 97 went up, do people drive slower? Nope. Those who observe the speed limit drive faster, legally, and those who exceed it drive faster yet.
Likewise, we can expect that loosening restrictions on marijuana not only expands legal use, it stretches the bounds of illegal use. Consider that marijuana use is still prohibited by federal law, but we as Oregonians have elected to ignore those laws.
Indeed, pot proponents ridicule U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for talk of enforcing federal laws. But they expect us to believe people will follow all state laws. If we decriminalize it for adults, kids will never get their hands on it, we are told. That’s absurd.
Proponents claim tax on legal sales will help law enforcement check black market sales. Last February, the Oregonian praised the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for cracking down on illegal pot sales to minors, tripling penalties.
Unfortunately for pot supporters, this is not the black market, but legally licensed recreational marijuana shops selling to teens. One in 5 licensed shops were willing to do so. There is no way to increase availability of marijuana for adults without also making it easier for kids to get.
Though pot supporters assure us that this will never happen, ask yourself how many junior high students have access to alcohol or cigarettes? How many have access to adult websites? Do we really think that expanding availability of marijuana is not going to affect more children?
You can ask anyone who has ever struggled with substance abuse and addiction when they started, and most will recall it was during their teen years or earlier.
Mr. Medina’s commentary admits that arresting those who sell drugs to minors is a good thing. We agree. But unlike communities that once embraced pot and are now trying to get the toothpaste back in the tube, Klamath has the opportunity to not invite the problem in the first place.
The argument goes on to cite the benefits of taxing marijuana sales. Their plan is to encourage and tax intoxication so that we have funds to arrest violators, treat addicts, and teach our kids to just say no? Should we also legalize and tax arson so we can pay to fight forest fires?
Frankly, I cannot believe we are having this discussion again. We, the voters, of Klamath have already said no, but like a toddler whining for a treat, the petition keeps coming back. Do we give in to the demands or are we responsible enough to stick to the right decision? Again?
The common sense of supply and demand suggests a simple formula. Less restriction equals more access equals more users. Mr. Medina claims that legalization will not encourage anyone to use marijuana who is not already doing so. The basic rules of business teach otherwise. The entire marketing industry is built on attracting new consumers. Why is he petitioning to expand his business if not to draw new customers?
Another major drawback of legalization is the available workforce to fuel economic growth in Klamath. Mr. Medina assures us this concern “has no foundation in reality.” He lets slip that getting high could cost workers their jobs and make them, in his words, “unemployable,” but after writing off any future for his own potential customers, he assures us there are sufficient numbers of other job-seekers to lure new business to Klamath.
We most vehemently disagree that some people are just that expendable. We believe that every single person in our community has worth and dignity, and is capable of making valuable contributions to society.
Klamath Community College’s 2017 commencement speaker, Joe Max Higgins, challenged KCC’s grads to take personal responsibility for our economic growth. Local business leaders see our human resources as a pivotal factor in Klamath’s economic resurgence or regression. Trading all that potential for the sake of intoxication is a tragedy, not a victory.
We as a community have embraced the Blue Zones initiative, to help people live healthier, better lives. Klamath Works is a cooperative effort by many various key players to help the needy become self-sufficient.
Here at the Gospel Mission, we work every day toward Rescue from drug addictions (among other issues), Recovery from self-destruction, and Renewal in the “life abundantly” the scriptures advocate. Klamath deserves a future of hope and promise; let’s not waste it getting high.
Rev. Steve Flecken is an ordained minister of The Wesleyan Church and chaplain at the Klamath Falls Gospel Mission. He completed his Master’s of Divinity from Wesley Seminary this year.