Editorial: Communities should remain steadfast in resisting lures of retail pot
Suburban communities have some decisions to make regarding the coming recreational marijuana market, and, for good or, mostly, ill, they have some prior experience to look to for guidance. That experience: Video gambling. Its message: Prepare to face pressure to conform.
Our message: Be steadfast.
From the outset of the legalization of video gambling in 2012, we were strong advocates for communities to reject what then was commonly referred to as the "crack cocaine of gambling." Sadly, we have watched as suburb after suburb that originally rejected video gambling succumbed to pressures imposed by neighboring towns that had permitted the machines.
We are not so naive as to think something similar won't happen with marijuana sales. But neither are we willing to throw in the towel and advise communities that have reservations about opening themselves to the uncertainties of retail marijuana to succumb to its inevitable incursion.
To the contrary, we're still uneasy, and we're still recommending that towns resist the temptations to reap some additional revenue from a new tax source. Or, if they can't resist, to at least place very stringent regulations on where and how pot can sold in town.
If they need some additional resolve, they can return to video gambling and consider recent reporting by WBEZ-FM and Pro-Publica that raises serious questions about whether the activity is producing enough revenues to cover what its drawbacks are costing communities and the state. There is legitimate cause for skepticism that the 3% added sales tax towns can collect from marijuana retailers will compensate them for the additional enforcement, safety, health and social services costs local sales may produce.
Balancing these costs and benefits is not a simple math calculation, we realize. Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain makes that clear in a story Monday by our Marie Wilson. He noted how Elgin, a larger city with sophisticated social service and mental health services will be a central point for helping people from smaller towns without them.
"If they have an addiction problem from a smaller community, they come to Elgin to get help ... and how do we pay for that?" he said. "The financial burden can fall on us."
Must it be foreordained, then, that towns like Elgin have to allow marijuana retailing to produce some revenue to support the systems they'll need to combat problems legalization will pose, even if residents buy the product elsewhere? A yes answer implies a pernicious vicious cycle that can only lead to a steady growth of a commercial enterprise about which we remain very uneasy.
We still urge communities to approach retail pot sales with stern resolve, preferably rejecting it altogether but at the very least imposing strict regulations on where and how cannabis products can be sold.
The state has placed its imprimatur on legal marijuana, based on assumptions that the product can be managed in a way to alleviate its inherent problems. We're not yet convinced that assumption will hold up in practice, and we urge suburban communities to resist becoming social laboratories to test its validity.