Let's start with an admission: I don't use marijuana. Never have and probably never will — though some of those edible medical-marijuana products look tantalizing, if the aches and pains ever become bad enough.
That's not to say I've never inhaled it second-hand, like millions who shared space with people passing around joints during the 1970s. I've also been to concerts, most notably Aerosmith inside Denver's old McNichols Arena, when the aroma sent everyone floating home, mellow and hungry.
My feelings about medical marijuana were mostly ambivalent until hearing and reading the many stories of MMJ patients, including war veterans, telling City Council how their lives have been improved so much. They told of the damage that prescribed narcotics had done to their bodies, and even their personalities. They aren't marijuana abusers, looking for the nearest party. All they want is a normal life, and MMJ gives them a much better chance.
Yet, all around us, we have morality police trying to protect us from what they see as the sins of marijuana. Here in Colorado Springs, celebrating its latest recognition as America's No. 1 most religious city (by Men's Health, a most unlikely authority on such matters), the city planning commission has decided that medical marijuana centers, aka dispensaries, are a huge threat to our everyday lives. Threatening to toddlers, college kids, even to future ministers.
So, in their collective wisdom, the planning commissioners voted 6-1 to increase the buffer zone from 400 feet to 1,000 feet separating MMJ centers from schools — including preschools, colleges and universities, even seminaries.
Goodness, we wouldn't want any 2-year-olds or Bible-thumping pastors-to-be wandering up to the well-secured doors of a nearby dispensary. Who knows what evil temptations might be waiting, just feet away?
It's foolish, not to mention misguided. Once again, we're hearing the same old false arguments about how medical marijuana is ruining our city.
Commissioner Carla Hartsell, said this in the public meeting, as quoted by our reporter Bryce Crawford: "The part that bothers me about having them close together is, we make a statement about what we value in our community ... But we want to say something about Colorado Springs, and I guess I personally don't want to be known as the marijuana capital of Colorado, where we have them everywhere."
Hartsell added this piece of bombast: "I really resent the fact that, as a City Council, they seem to be motivated by one thing, and one thing only, and that's the revenue that comes to the general fund. I know they're not going to like hearing that. I think we're selling our soul to the devil..."
Another commissioner, Diann Butlak, said: "The culture of Colorado Springs is different from the state culture. If the city of Colorado Springs wants to reflect its culture and wants to protect neighborhoods, wants to protect houses of worship, why are we precluded from doing that?"
Nobody among the morality police — uh, planning commission — condemned Hartsell or Butlak. The only rejoinder came when Butlak proposed the 1,000-foot limit include churches and parks, which went nowhere.
Otherwise, those commissioners ignore the lack of proof that the MMJ industry is causing any increase in local crime. They haven't noticed our reporting, updated last week ("Flickering flame," News), clearly indicating dispensaries are decreasing in number, not increasing. The best of those businesses will survive; the others won't. We will not be the marijuana capital of Colorado. Yet the people of Colorado Springs, no matter how conservative many might be, have made it clear they are tolerant of medical marijuana.
Now it's up to City Council, which surely will reaffirm its past MMJ decisions, continue with its 400-foot buffer zone, and toss the morality police's recommendations into the wastebasket, where they belong.
Perhaps someday we can move beyond all this, and the morality police can stop trying to force their intolerant paranoia on the rest of us.
That day cannot come soon enough.