Friday, June 20, 2008

Reefer Madness: Hailey sues Hailey

The reefer vote passed to sanctify into law a de facto practice.


By MICHAEL AMES

Hailey has a drug problem. To refresh your short-term memory: In late May, for the second time in eight months, Hailey voters approved three measures to loosen city laws governing marijuana. Specifically, the initiatives seek to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp and set the enforcement of marijuana laws as the lowest police priority.

The lead in Terry Smith's May 28 Idaho Mountain Express story said it all: "New election, same results."

But Hailey city elders—Police Chief Jeff Gunter, Councilman Don Keirn and Mayor Rick Davis—continued to defy the fresh, sticky laws by maintaining a lawsuit against the city.

In short, Hailey is suing itself. Dysfunction is rarely on such easy display.

But what to do about it? This newspaper's editorial board advised Hailey against endorsing the measures, lest more tax dollars be spent on the city's self-recrimination. As financial advice goes, fair enough.

But frugality is not the main issue here, nor is it the motive behind plaintiffs Gunter, Davis and Keirn's lawsuit. Theirs is instead a mixed signal. Part Nancy Reagan finger-wag (Just Say No) and part desperate denial (this can't be happening, this can't be happening), these Deciders are going to lengths to quash democratic action.

Granted, their concern is not totally unwarranted. The pot referendums stand in direct opposition to state and federal law and present a real puzzle for local government. A Hailey city press release reminded everyone that the voters' wishes are "illegal because they are contrary to the general laws of the state of Idaho and the United States."

Right, we got it: Drugs are bad. But this was not a vote to approve child labor, dog-fighting or public duels. Such efforts would surely fail, despite Hailey's wide, duel-friendly boulevards.

The reefer vote passed to sanctify into law a de facto practice. Had the plaintiffs simply accepted the mandate, not much would have changed in Hailey. Lighters would have kept right on sparking, bongs bubbling and the valley would go on living its life.

Pot reform is common in America. More than a dozen states have legalized forms of medical marijuana and industrial hemp. Possession has been decriminalized to some extent (i.e. no arrests for first offenses) in a full dozen states including Nebraska and Mississippi.

Mississippi!

Yes, Idaho is a very conservative state and, yes, the state Legislature harbors several dinosaurs (explaining the current Statehouse expansion). But even conservatives agree that the most effective form of government is that which is closest to the people. Now that Hailey has spoken for change—twice—a select few have decided that they don't like what they hear.

Thomas Jefferson is always good for a quote. Here's one: "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him?"

The chief of police, Mayor Davis and Councilman Keirn are tireless public officials. No doubt, they work harder than anyone to ensure Hailey's safety and prosperity. Perhaps they are simply looking out for the town's best interests.

But they haven't said that. Keirn hopes that a judge will clean up the whole mess, rather than uphold Hailey's dubious dope distinction. "I'd like to get it behind us," he said.

They didn't want to rock the boat, but by filing a lawsuit against the democratic process, these official may have overcorrected.




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