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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Benefit versus Burden

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Don't Shoot the MessengerIn his insightful book What’s The Matter with Kansas, New York Times writer Frank Rich detailed the paradox that voters in that Midwest state often vote against their own financial interest.

Why? The simple answer is that those voters favored more general and proscriptive moral issues, like anti-abortion, over personal financial issues, like protecting small farms. It is a fascinating and complicated dichotomy that is not isolated to Kansas: Medford’s struggle with legalized marijuana is a perfect case-study.

Although Medford is one of the most cash-strapped cities in Oregon, with alarming rates of homeless and, not coincidentally, some of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, voters there have opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana, even though those very sales could generate necessary tens of thousands in funding for programs for at-risk youth. In particular, City Council had been leading this charge against marijuana voting unanimously in 2013, city council voted to ban dispensaries (prior to Measure 91) and then, the popular vote on Measure 91 to legalize recreational use of marijuana was evenly split in Medford, with just a handful of voters more on the opposition side.

Last November, again, City Council tried to ban not only retail sales of recreational marijuana, but also swept up allowances for outdoor grows, including medical marijuana plants. Faced with a public outcry at city chambers (see, News, page 7), city council decided to let voters, well, decide.

This November, Medford voters will again vote on marijuana: 15-144 proposes to prohibit marijuana retailers in Medford; 15-166 proposes to prohibit outdoor recreational and medical marijuana grows within residential areas. And, smartly, there is also the concession, 15-145, to impose city tax on marijuana retailer’s sale of marijuana items, assuming that voters hadn’t banned retail sales.

The Messenger recommends No votes on both 15-144 and 15-166, and Yes to taxing marijuana sales.

Why? Quite simply, any burdens to individuals offended by marijuana far outweigh the public benefit.

Ostensibly, the proposed ban on outdoor grows stemmed from a handful of complaints about the “odor” from outdoor grows; all told, police say they receive about 30 complaints within a six month period—roughly the number of traffic citations in a single day. Which is to say: A minor burden to a few people, at best.

The benefit? First, allowing medical marijuana users the inexpensive means to grow their own pot is simply humane. Even if you don’t fully believe in weed’s medicinal purposes, who are you to deny someone suffering from PTSD or cancer pain some sort of temporary relief? The allowances for private grows are so small as to offer only the most minor odor offense and really should be a matter between individual neighbors rather than creating a blanket rule for the whole city. Not to mention that banning grows for medicinal marijuana may open up the City of Medford to lawsuits.

Second, and more generally, the benefit to Medford is potentially a game-changer, with tens of thousands of dollars available each year for youth programs. With dismally low graduation rates in Medford’s public schools—which largely correlate to economic disadvantaged demographics—these funds are important.

“To our financial detriment, Medford is presumably the largest metropolitan area that has opted out of retail sales,” explained city councilmember Clay Bearnson. “There is no way of calculating what we’ve already missed out on, but some estimates have been in the six digit range.” Bearnson, who is an owner of Oregon Farmarcy, was elected to Medford city council; it is believed that he represents the first marijuana grower to be elected to a governing body in Oregon.

He goes on, “It makes no sense to accept money alcohol retail sales and not accept it from marijuana retail sales. Medford currently receives about $1 million each year from the OLCC in the form of shared revenues.”

For our money—and for the tax revenue that Medford could generate for youth services—even if marijuana isn’t morally your thing or if the smell bugs you, the Messenger urges you to consider the greater good and vote No to both proposed bans, and Yes for taxing marijuana sales in Medford.


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