Although the public hearing on Sunnyside’s plans regarding a marijuana retail store in the city will not be held until the next regular meeting on Monday, April 28, much of the discussion at last night’s council meeting was on the subject.
A citizen spoke on the subject to start the meeting and during the subcommittee reports, near the end of the meeting, Councilman Jason Raines also addressed the issue and stated his clear opinion on the subject.
Sunnyside lawyer Alex Newhouse spoke before council during the time allotted for unscheduled appearances by citizens. He asked for, and was granted, extra time to speak. He stated that he will not be able to attend the hearing and wanted to present his information to council in person.
Newhouse said that he is offended by a rumor he claims is being spread about him that indicates he wants marijuana to be available to children.
“I’m very much opposed to marijuana in the hands of children,” he said. “I’m a good father, and if I thought for a second that what I was advocating for would make a worse world for my children, I would be joining the opposition.”
Newhouse said his concerns are related to liberty, personal responsibility and fiscal responsibility. He argued that information presented to council has been entirely one-sided, and often incorrect.
He said that some statistics are misleading, such as the number of people being treated for addiction. Newhouse alleged that people are being forced into treatment programs that do not need them.
He quoted a number of experts and provided the council with substantial documentation to back up his position.
Newhouse also talked about the effect of marijuana on children and the fact that children have easy access to it despite it being illegal.
“Youth have unprecedented access to marijuana right now, and if you think otherwise, you’re fooling yourself,” he said. “I represent these juveniles (in court).”
He argued that stores will not increase access to marijuana for children, thanks to heavy security rules and requirements. He said some of the tax money from the stores will go toward treatment, education and prevention instead of all of it going to the black market and illegal activities.
“It’s not going to eliminate the black market,” said Newhouse. “But it is a tool to take some (business) from it.”
He asked the council to adopt the planning commission’s recommendations. He said a total ban will not be good for Sunnyside.
“Jeff Barrom got it right,” said Newhouse. “Banning business is not the proper role of government.”
Newhouse also alluded to the recent meeting of the public safety subcommittee. Several organizations opposed to marijuana were invited to speak, but no one in favor was invited to the meeting.
Later in the meeting, Raines presented the public safety committee’s resolution to the council. The resolution, signed by Raines, Councilman Dean Broersma and Councilman Craig Hicks, asks the council to ban marijuana growing, processing and retailing in the city.
Councilman Spencer Martin provided a critique of the resolution, noting that it only presented one side of the argument. He talked about his time as a police officer and said he fought for the freedom of people.
“Our job as city council is not to legislate the morality of ourselves on the people,” said Martin. “Our job as city council is to look at the laws, decide whether or not those laws are pertinent for everybody in our community and make a decision based on the law and the constitution of the United States.”
Martin said the city should not be stepping into the battle. He argued that the ACLU will attack the first city to ban marijuana that has no money to spend to defend itself.
“We need to use common sense and intelligence, not our hearts,” he said.
As Raines answered Martin’s critique, Mayor Jim Restucci cautioned the councilmen to not get into a debate on the subject due to the upcoming public hearing.
“We are having a public hearing on the 28th,” he said. “Although it is not a quasi-judicial public hearing, it’s a legislative public hearing, as far as I’m concerned we should err on the side of caution. The appearance of fairness doctrine should be in play.
“No member of this body should make it known publicly which way they support, one way or the other, until this item has come before the council and the public has had their chance to voice their concerns as well,” he said.