The Pot Liberation Front

In many ways, Colorado Springs provides a microscopic sample of our national demographic. We have the serious ultra-conservative right-wing Republicans, fun but slightly insane Democrat fanatics (like the ones dancing in the streets after Obama won), a strong Libertarian front dedicated to creating and maintaining freedoms, and the rest of us who merely watch in awe, disgust, or some strange mixture of both from the sidelines. Whether we identify as military or civilian, conservative or liberal, Punk or Evangelical, we live side-by-side in a strange mish-mash that forces us to continually redefine our community. This aspect of the Springs seemed quite evident during our recent town hall debate regarding the legal sale of Retail Marijuana (RMJ). While everyone who spoke arrived with a clear agenda, some arguments proved far stronger than others.

Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Wallenda – Pic from Northcom website

The marijuana debate lasted nearly five hours as community leaders and citizens addressed the City Council. Interestingly enough, the opponents’ arguments consisted largely of logical fallacies. Army Lt. General Ed Anderson III began with an appeal to fear, stating that legal marijuana will create a “social issue” leading to many problems in the military, much like sexual harassment. Unfortunately for Lt. Gen. Anderson, this is a faulty analogy. Marijuana consumption is not the same issue as sexual harassment inside or outside the military, but Anderson states that both of them are similar because they’re “social issues.” He’s worried about marijuana use “[bleeding] over into the military” and “significantly [challenging] . . . military leadership” just as sexual harassment does. We heard much about the leadership and their challenges, but none of the men who spoke offered much in the way of specifics.

In addition, each of the retired military spokesmen claimed to represent active duty military leaders because active military servicemen and women cannot publicly campaign for a partisan directive or candidate according to Federal Law (Titles 10, 2, and 18), among other regulations. All members of the military, who cannot actually speak for themselves, apparently agree that Colorado Springs should ban marijuana. This is a hasty generalization, which occurs when a person uses the opinions, ideas, or aspects of a small sample and tries to use this sample as fact for an entire population or significantly larger population. While the law protects active duty military men and women, it also effectively silences them. second military speaker at the town hall meeting, retired Major General Larry Fortner, spoke most stridently against RMJ sales. His argument hinged on the upcoming Defense Closure and Base Realignment Commission’s (BRAC) views on legal marijuana. While he says that Colorado Springs probably won’t face a BRAC decision until 2015-2017, he claims that choosing to legalize RMJ in our city concerns “the commanders and all of our military . . . about the effects on their people and installations. . . .” The general’s statement is a prime example of the bandwagon fallacy. This flawed line of reasoning states that an idea or policy is popular and therefore correct, which is a bit like the idea that the entire military wants Colorado Springs to ban RMJ sales.

Fortner’s fallacious argument hinges on the notion that the BRAC considers “community support” essential when placing or realigning military, and a ban would “make it easier for us to defend the closing of our military installations or bring new installations into the area if we need to.” Of course, such a claim is a fallacy in many regards. The main fallacy is a Non Causa Pro Causa, or a false-cause argument, but it’s also a Slippery Slope. These types of fallacies usually begin with the idea that some action now will cause a series of terrible events to occur; for instance, say someone claims legalizing RMJ sales will cause Washington to pull troops out of Colorado Springs and close some of our bases. In reality, relocating tens of thousands of troops from a highly desirable and strategically integrated area, especially given our current national debt, would be an unlikely maneuver for a host of reasons although it is true that the Military Industrial Complex isn’t usually cited as a pristine example of sanity or logic.

The argument grew progressively worse from there because the entire thread of discussion focused on the idea that marijuana would cause the military to pull out of Colorado Springs. They covered the possibilities endlessly, from economic repercussions of military relocation to marijuana creating a dangerous or harmful atmosphere for our troops. While these men have served our country loyally and bravely, they should have come better prepared with logic and facts when speaking to such a monumental issue. for those siding against the issue, many of the proponents’ arguments were better constructed, more carefully supported by substantive evidence, and presented with a bit more gusto. For instance, KC Stark, a local RMJ advocate, spoke passionately but still managed to make logical sense, although his speech did, at times, sound a bit more like beat poetry than debate. He described the history of marijuana prohibition, discussed the democratic process and why we use it to decide large issues, and urged Council Members to look at the facts.

He used a perfectly applicable analogy regarding the hype that occurred before the legalization of Medicinal Marijuana (MMJ): “many claimed the [medical] cannabis industry would destroy our city, would turn our children into Cannabis Domines, would lower our home values and increase crime, ruin the local economy, and it would even cause the Army and Air Force to leave Colorado Springs.” Then KC paused slightly for dramatic effect. “Did this happen?” he asked. “No, it did not.”

Essentially, KC has a valid point. The world didn’t end with medical cannabis, and it won’t if we legalize the retail sale of cannabis. At one point in his seven-minute (possibly longer) speech, he claimed that “Colorado Springs has become the Silicon Valley of responsible cannabis cultivation in the United States.” While we might not be as high tech as Silicon Valley, the RMJ business has just as much potential as IBM did in the 1970s.

Other speakers, especially doctors involved in the current medical marijuana industry, advocated for the medical use of marijuana to remain a separate issue for the sake of the patients. After the scheduled speakers, citizens had their chance to share their opinion with City Council, and many citizens spoke with wonderful arguments as they used both formal and informal logic effectively. Compared to those who spoke against the sales’ legalization, the intellectual turnout was certainly in favor of RMJ legalization, and the proponents made stronger arguments simply from a rhetorical standpoint.

Colorado Springs City CouncilHowever, whether the city leaders listen to the citizens’ majority, who turned out to support RMJ sales legalization, or the opponenents’ minority, which had very little citizen support at the town hall, remains to be seen. The Colorado Springs Town Hall debate preceded the state’s release of a 60-page list of regulations for all retail marijuana sellers. Though retail was approved by the state, localities can still weigh in and choose to ban the retail sale of marijuana, and the Springs City Council should have a decision by July 8th at the latest, from the information given at the town hall meeting. Should locality officials choose to ban RMJ sales, they might just be facing a very loud, obnoxious, and quite outraged bit of public outcry.

The main concern for City Council might be our county’s actual votes on the issue. The 2012 vote on Amendment 64 in El Paso County missed passing  by 3301 votes, a bare 1.3% of the voting population. Even though more RMJ sales supporters spoke up at the Town Hall Debate than opponents, the original votes were statistically against RMJ sales legalization in our county. This truly gives the City Council the final say in the matter. They may choose to either place a moratorium on RMJ sales or outright ban them. With the activism surrounding this issue, especially with the NAACP involved as outspoken proponents for marijuana decriminalization, Colorado Springs has the chance to show our country we’re thinking about the future of our state instead of upholding traditional, stodgy prohibitions.

Whatever choice our leaders make, someone will be angry enough to tear at their hair, rend their clothes, and sprinkle themselves with ashes. Others might claim we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, or that the City Council are all Reptilians. Most will probably only be annoyed and mutter about their pot-smokin’ hippie neighbors. I’m sure we’ll see picketers down by city hall no matter the outcome. Still, that’s what I like about Colorado Springs: we have a flair for creating community discord as easily as we create unity. Accordingly, no one truly sane can live here without a healthy sense of humor and plenty of patience.

While our politicians discuss policy and those looking to start new businesses make plans, the rest of the community waits. Maybe our leaders will choose freedom, and I think most of those who left the meeting that night felt that our Council would make a choice in favor of RMJ sales, but no one can read thoughts simply from politicians’ expressions.

On this issue, I’m really in line with the Libertarians. Adults can choose whether they smoke or ingest marijuana regardless of law anyway, so maybe we should do the American thing and allow them the freedom legally. Then we can move onto more important issues. Maybe we should focus on battling high unemployment rates, helping injured soldiers rehabilitate and re-enter society, or rebuilding our failing infrastructure instead of squabbling about a relatively harmless drug.

To watch the scheduled speakers’ portion of the Colorado Springs Town Hall meeting debating Retail Marijuana Sales, click here.