EDITORIAL: As sides line up on marijuana, let civility rule day

Ontario appears headed for another divisive political season. Forces that want marijuana to be sold for personal recreation have won a spot on the November ballot. And local citizens adamantly opposed to open sale are ramping up to see that doesn’t happen.

The target is the ban on sales imposed by the Ontario City Council in 2015. The council fenced off the community from retail sales, carving out an exception to the state vote that made such sales legal. That prohibition was reinforced a year later when races for council seats focused in part on who was and wasn’t in favor of the ban.

And we’ll likely know this week whether a companion effort to open up marijuana sales in rural parts of the county succeeds. If repealing the ban gets on the county ballot, no voters in the area will escape having to make this choice.

The pro-marijuana supporters used the tools available to them to make their political point. They framed the ballot petition language, they worked to gather signatures from voters, and they used the state law as it was intended. No one should begrudge them. They didn’t just sit on the sidelines and complain about the ban. They put civic muscle into trying to change Ontario law.

What’s ahead, though, will test the community. The still-fresh memories of the city sales tax vote show what happens locally in heated political contests. In that campaign, facts got lost to rhetoric. Emotions took hold, and insulting remarks from both sides damaged relationships and tinged the issue with venom.

The prospect seems real for the marijuana debate to take the same tack. People on both sides will be passionate. Marijuana supporters say it’s a matter of personal freedom, of regulating what’s now traded on the black market, of bolstering local tax coffers. Opponents see a future with increased crime, increased social costs, and more of a temptation for young people. They see nothing good about using cannabis.

We expect both sides to be loud and vigorous in expressing themselves. At the Malheur Enterprise, we intend to report deeply on the topic, taking an even-handed approach to get out the facts. We encourage readers to let us know what they want to know. But before the first campaign sign goes up, the community should expect a pledge from both sides.

Supporters and opponents should agree to keep discussion and debate focused on the issue. They should check any urge to cast people as fools or worse for their viewpoints. They should agree to declare a bit of a political truce, and provide some mechanism for campaign managers to stay in touch with each other. In the sales tax campaign, rumors spread faster than truth, and feelings were needlessly hurt as a result. In this election, campaign managers ought to check with each other about any reported abuses or misconduct before accepting rumor as fact.

What the community doesn’t need is another political campaign whose chief result is a deeper divide among residents. We face considerable challenges, such as in schools, with poverty, with housing. Those challenges could face a severe setback if people are so angry with each other after the marijuana vote that they can’t even talk to each other about issues on which they do agree. Campaign with vigor, press points with passion, but through the coming weeks, keep it civil.

– LZ