We get it, Manitou Springs City Council. You're cool, so you had to do it. You legalized sales of recreational pot, undermining efforts of all other communities in the region to keep drug use in check. Dudes. Far out.
Manitou is also a community heavily dependent on visitors from a greater metropolitan area heavily composed of military personnel and traditional-values families. Many who have routinely visited won't spend time there after the pot shops open. Parents already have a hard time keeping children away from drugs. There is no question the council's 6-1 vote to legalize sales will make pot more abundant and therefore more attractive and available to kids.
A letter that came to The Gazette on Wednesday morning expresses a sentiment that's probably shared by tens of thousands of area residents.
"We've lived here for about 7 years and have always enjoyed our time shopping and browsing in Manitou Springs," wrote Sue Gordon. "But now that you've legalized recreational marijuana, we will cease coming to Manitou at all. What a charming eccentric town you've been. Don't know what kind of folks you are trying to attract, but it won't be a lot of us locals.
Next came a letter from Dr. Kenneth Finn, a highly respected member of Colorado's medical community. He's a member of the Governor's Task Force on Amendment 64 Implementation. He's a pain-management specialist. And he's cool.
Dr. Finn's letter highlights, in medical detail, some of the problems with easy access to recreational pot:
- Marijuana is toxic, containing dozens of chemicals. Among them: tar, benzene and toluene in higher concentrations than in cigarettes.
- Potency of today's marijuana has increased an average of 300 percent since the 1980s.
- Colorado is already far above the national average for daily use of marijuana among those under 18. The Colorado Department of Education reports a dramatic increase in student expulsions due to marijuana use since the 2008 proliferation of medical pot stores.
- Marijuana impairs memory and learning, as areas of the brain permanently shrink with chronic pot use.
- Marijuana has strong links to schizophrenia, depression and suicide.
- Auto fatalities involving drivers testing positive only for pot increased 114 percent between 2006 and 2009.
Those are the sober facts. But don't let that get in the way. This decision was purely political.
"When I went knocking on people's doors, about 74 percent told me this is what they want," said Councilman Kevin "Sarge" Mac Donald II, who favored recreational sales. "It's obvious this town wants this. My campaign was, I'm tired of so many councilors saying 'I'm going to do what the people want, I'm going to answer to the people.' Then they get up there and say 'well, I personally believe . and I'm like, what happened to the voice of the people? And I want everyone to know that's what I'm doing. And if 74 percent say they want this, then I'm going to support that."
There's a reason public policy isn't created by impulse at the behest of majorities, as would be the case in a pure and tyrannical democracy. In this country, majorities elect politicians to distill popular sentiment in a context of expert information, wisdom and responsibility. The majority in a village of alcoholics may clamor to legalize drunk driving, but it doesn't mean politicians should make it so.
Sure, a majority voted for Amendment 64. They voted for every word of it. Just as the initiative legalized pot, it wisely empowered communities to ban commercial sales. The Manitou council would have demonstrated better judgment by exercising it's authority to protect the community against the whims and caprices of popular opinion.