Don Roberts’ Dec. 3 column, “Augusta shouldn’t go to pot,” is disappointing. Roberts holds a defensible position — that Augusta should craft a restrictive policy for marijuana-related businesses. But rather than defending his position, he spends most of the column attacking the city councilor who is proposing a policy he dislikes. Roberts should remember that campaign season is over, and it’s time to discuss the merits of policy rather than personally attacking lawmakers.

Roberts mentioned that the incoming U.S. attorney general vigorously opposes legalizing pot, and that the voters of Augusta voted against the referendum. He also stated that all four wards in Augusta voted no on Question 1, the marijuana legalization initiative, and alluded to the fact that the statewide results were close, from which we can infer that there isn’t a strong pro-pot mandate in Augusta or statewide. Had Roberts stuck to these arguments and fleshed them out, he would have had a reasonable argument against loose pot regulations in Augusta.

Instead, Roberts focused on using bogeymen and bad interpretations of scientific results to make his argument. He uses exactly the kind of divisive, ideology-driven narrative that we need to move away from if we are to have productive discussions about solving Maine’s problems — for example, the opioid epidemic and Augusta’s lack of an economic development plan, both of which Roberts mentions and neither of which he offers solutions to.

In suggesting that “[s]ome studies have shown that smoke from marijuana is more toxic than cigarettes” to argue against allowing restaurants to serve pot to customers, Roberts is either misunderstanding or deliberately misrepresenting the science. His implication is that pot smoke is worse than tobacco for nonsmokers, when the American Lung Association says that “there is no data on the health consequences of breathing secondhand marijuana smoke” and “[a]dditional research on the health effects of secondhand marijuana smoke is needed.” The studies that do show pot smoke to be more dangerous suggest that the danger has everything to do with pot smokers inhaling more deeply and holding smoke in the lungs longer than tobacco smokers.

I am a resident of Gardiner, so I’ll refrain from offering judgment on Councilor Linda Conti’s proposal for Augusta. But I will say this: if her proposal is a bad idea, it has nothing to do with Conti being “a progressively liberal politician who wishes to socially engineer the transformation of America.” Conti is a public servant, tasked by her constituents with proposing policy that will benefit their community. If her constituents disagree with her solutions, it is their job to call and write her asking to change her stance. If she persists, it is their right to elect a new councilor to represent them. Conti cannot “decide on Augusta’s community values” by herself.

If Roberts wants to offer different solutions to Augusta’s and Maine’s problems, I would be excited to read them and to debate them on their merits. If he wants to argue that Conti’s plan is bad policy, he should. But needlessly mentioning the “very liberal Portland area” as a means of attacking pot proponents, and calling Conti an “ultra-liberal” and attacking her plan on an ideological rather than a policy basis, is not helpful. We will not solve Maine’s problems by refusing to listen to ideas that come from people who see the world differently than we do.

In these times of growing discord and significant community problems, we need to take off our ideological blinders. In this era of “fake news” websites and partisan news everywhere, we need columnists who offer meaningful analysis rather than pandering to one crowd or another. Hopefully, when Augusta’s City Council convenes to discuss Conti’s proposal and other potential avenues for economic development, they won’t look at Augusta’s problems in the same narrow way Roberts has.

Hopefully, they will be able to view the situation in a way that doesn’t preclude any solutions just because of who proposed them, or how that person sees the world. The future of our republic depends on city councils and legislatures around the country being able to do just that.

Mike Emery lives in Gardiner.


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