Residents express views on marijuana use

Photo by Yelena KislerPhoto by Yelena KislerPhoto by Yelena KislerPhoto by Yelena KislerPhoto by Yelena KislerPhoto by Yelena KislerPhoto by Yelena Kisler
Yelena Kisler
Staff Writer

The St. Marys Area High School auditorium hosted a recreational marijuana legalization listening tour Saturday where the close to 50 residents in attendance had the opportunity to voice their opinions on the subject to Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman.
He began the forum by reminding the audience that he was just there to listen to their perspectives on the issue, and not to judge or answer questions on the matter.
"This is an opportunity for you to weigh in and give us your thoughts and views are on recreational adult cannabis," he said. "You can be a hardcore pro, hardcore con, undecided, it doesn't matter. We're here to hear those views."
He also stressed the need for civility in this conversation despite opposing views. He asked attendees to refrain from "boos" or going after a speaker directly in an effort to foster a safe environment "where everybody feels free to share their views." Several speakers later took this a step further, thanking those who had the courage to speak on both sides of the spectrum for their courage and honesty.
One notable speaker to voice his opinion, and the first to go to the microphone, was St. Marys Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Toth. Toth expressed that his concern as an educator is similar to his concern about other substances; that is the strictness of regulations and the age determination for "adult".
"Overall, we want to make sure that whatever happens, that we protect our students and provide them with the guidance as they mature and graduate as to what they might walk in to," said Toth.
Some of the arguments against legalization from those who spoke included a lack of sufficient research on the effects of cannabis, questioning if cannabis is a gateway drug, inebriation as a result of use, and that our focus should be more on opioid addiction and less on marijuana regulation.
"[Our community] is suffering from death and despair, with the high rate of opioid abuse, our social capital has been eroding," said one speaker. "I don't believe now is the right time, we have some very serious needs in this county… and I don't think this is going to fix the erosion of social capital."
Elk County Prison Warden Greg Gebauer said his opinion on marijuana stems from his observations of its effects on those he sees with psychological issues, often exacerbating them.
"I believe if you make marijuana legal, it's just going to intensify the whole issue with more people using it and smoking it, more people that will be less conscious about [using]," he said. "You're going to have the same issues as with DUIs. You're going to have people smoking too much marijuana and getting behind the vehicle of a car."
Another speaker, Eric Bonfardine, a veteran said, "Being in the military, I've seen what [marijuana] can do. Make you Mr. Superman, it can also make you feel good. But, what are we teaching our young people? Well, mom and grandpa can use marijuana, why can't I?" He also wondered if it does, in fact, lead to harder drugs, again, citing the opioid epidemic.
Those who voiced opinions for legalizations cited such reasons as it's medical benefits, an absence of any documented overdoses, the safety of its use as compared to alcohol, and the potential for the use of industrial hemp if marijuana is legalized across the board.

For more on this story, see today's publication of the Ridgway Record. (Monday, March 11, 2019)