Honesdale marijuana debate
HONESDALE, PA — The tall, broad, tattooed bald man dressed in working man’s clothes strode up to the podium in Honesdale’s high school auditorium and tested the microphone. Those in the April 28 audience who didn’t know him from his TV appearances (“The Colbert Report” in 2009, “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” in 2016, “A Day in the Life” and ads for Levi Strauss & Company) may not have realized that this was Pennsylvania’s Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
On stop #49 of a 67-county listening tour (Pike was #50), Fetterman invited his audience of about 100 to step up to a microphone and air concerns and opinions related to that topic. To date, 35,000 state residents have done so online at www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuana-feedback. He only asked three things of his audience: that all speakers act civilly, allowing each to complete his comments without interruption or disparaging reaction; that speakers confine their comments to 90-second to two-minute intervals; and that each speaker state a position—pro, con, or undecided. Promising that at the end of the event a show-of-hands tally would be taken for the record, Fetterman opened the floor.
Attorney Mark Zimmer, who served three terms as Wayne County DA, said, based on his experience in that office, state regulation of alcohol has not deterred alcohol-related crime: one third of every DA caseload in PA is alcohol related. He urged PA to wait and watch closely the experience of Colorado and other states that legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Wayne County Chief Clerk Vicky Botjer touched on the legal conundrum posed by federal laws that make recreational marijuana use illegal, even in states that have legalized it. Citing the federal prohibition for anyone with a license to carry a handgun—law enforcement officers among them—to possess marijuana, she said that was only one example of federal law superseding state law.
A former corrections officer pleaded for rapid legalization of recreational marijuana, in the hope it will be more affordable and of better quality than that available on the black market. He said he uses it for relief of irritable bowel syndrome, and claimed medical marijuana is less accessible and more expensive than the recreational variety.
Another former law enforcement officer urged the state to observe Colorado’s experience for a period of years before deciding what to do, and then to decriminalize recreational use but to stop short of legalizing it.
A woman identifying herself as a mother and grandmother said she doesn’t think Wayne Memorial Hospital can handle the 33% increase in emergency room visits experienced in Colorado since it legalized recreational marijuana use.
Despite widely divergent views on the overriding issue, a unifying concern soon emerged. Almost every speaker expressed distrust of state government, convinced that it will act not in the best interests of its citizens’ welfare, health and safety, but in its own best economic interests. And they are convinced that wherever the revenues are pledged, they will wind up elsewhere, as with liquid fuel tax revenues designed for road maintenance and rebuilding.
“We have the worst roads in the nation,” said one speaker. Another, echoing her complaint, said, “We are currently in more danger from potholes than potheads.” A majority agreed with that assessment. The show of hands tally was more pro than con, with fewer than a dozen still undecided.