Just talking about marijuana can make people look silly

George Boardman, The Union

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that using illegal drugs makes people stupid. The current “debate” over Measure S suggests that just talking about marijuana can make them look silly.

You would think people would focus on the merits of the controversial initiative, which its backers say will clarify current regulations so that medical marijuana growers who want to be in compliance will have a clearer set of guidelines. Opponents contend the result will be more marijuana made available for illegal use and sale.

But that approach would be too easy. Heck, we couldn’t even get both sides to agree on a venue to debate the subject.

Jim Hemig, the publisher of this newspaper, tried to provide a service to the public by organizing a debate between to the two factions. But Patricia Smith, Nevada County chair of Americans for Safe Access and the driving force behind the initiative, didn’t want the debate in the Rood Center because too many armed deputies (is that redundant?) might be present.

Sheriff Keith Royal, who you would assume isn’t reluctant to go anyplace in the county, said he wouldn’t debate at the Nevada Theatre because, “You will not see a balanced audience.” The event was canceled, and Hemig has a practical example of the old saying that no good deed goes unpunished.

Both factions went ahead with separate events on the same night, guaranteeing that interested citizens would only hear one side of the issue. But that’s better than the three-ring circus that surrounds the issue.

When given space next to Royal on The Union’s editorial page to make the case for Measure S, Smith instead bemoaned the presence of deputies at the Rood Center when the initial ordinance was passed, and suggested that the recent arrest of an initiative supporter had more to do with politics than law and order.

Backers of Measure S say opponents of the initiative violated election law by using county letterhead on the official ballot statement opposing the measure. “Read it — it’s full of opinion,” said medical cannabis advocate Martin Webb, who supports Measure S.

Well, ballot arguments usually are. But Nevada County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green defended the use of county letterhead by citing rulings in two California Supreme Court cases that she said allows for use of such letterhead, “as long as it is factual and neutral.”

Last week, now less than five weeks before the election, the backers claimed the ballot language on Measure S violates the election code and needed to be changed before mail ballots are sent out this week. The language has been public since April, but the Measure S folks apparently didn’t get around to reading it until two weeks ago. On Friday, Judge Sean Dowling denied the request to reprint ballots, although he said the Measure S ballot label, the wording that voters see before they cast their ballot, “missed the mark” because it was not impartial as required by law.

Then there are the zany residents of Alta Sierra, where the property owners association’s mailing list is apparently available to anyone and has been used for a couple of unauthorized activities promoting both sides of Measure S.

The League of Women Voters will bring some adult supervision to the issue when it sponsors a debate at the Rood Center Oct. 16. Smith, who has apparently overcome her aversion to the building, will be joined by attorney Stephen Munkelt in support of Measure S. Scheduled to oppose the measure are Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Smethers and county counsel Alison Barratt-Green. (Are Smethers and Barratt-Green participating on their own time, or are the taxpayers paying them to opposed Measure S? Just wondering.)

Missing from all this are the supervisors who passed the ordinance in 2012 that prompted the initiative movement that produced Measure S. (Supervisor Terry Lamphier gets a pass because he voted against the original measure.) Supervisors Nate Beason and Ed Scofield were adamant at the time that we needed an ordinance, but both of them have been largely missing in action so far — although Scofield did participate in the discussion with Hemig at the Rood Center the same night Measure S supporters held a forum at the Nevada Theatre.

In part, the campaign to date reflects the emotional response triggered by the subject of marijuana. When it’s easier for a teenager to buy pot than a pack of cigarettes, it’s hard to make the case that Nevada County doesn’t have enough marijuana for those who use it medicinally.

It’s no secret that pot helps fuel the local economy, and Royal claims that 75 percent of the pot grown under the current ordinance is actually sold for recreational use. The Union occasionally carries stories about people with a local connection getting arrested in Middle America with a load of weed in their vehicle, suggesting the county is a net exporter of the substance.

In the end, it may not make much of a difference how we vote Nov. 4. The Marijuana Policy Project, which backed efforts to legalize marijuana in Colorado, announced last month that it has filed paperwork to form a campaign committee to put a measure legalizing pot on the California ballot in 2016.

A Field Poll conducted last December found that 55 percent of California voters favor legalizing the drug for recreational use, indicating there’s a good chance the measure will succeed.

Of course, we could also elect a Republican president in 2016 who decides to enforce the federal law that makes marijuana illegal. That would serve us right for electing officials who refuse to deal with this issue in a rational manner.