Pennsylvania residents should not be allowed to smoke marijuana legally, according to most of 50-60 persons who turned out Saturday night during a forum at Tunkhannock Area High School Saturday evening.
The forum was part of Lt. Governor John Fetterman’s statewide “listening tour” to hear what Pennsylvania residents have to say about legalizing cannabis for recreational use.
At the end of the discussion, Fetterman asked for a show of hands to get a sentiment of where Wyoming County residents stood - at least of those attending that night.
Between 12 and 15 were firmly for it, 25-30 raised their hands against it, and around 10 expressed that they were undecided.
The hands display went counter to what Fetterman,who has traveled throughout the state the past two months said he had experienced so far, noting that about 65-70 percent of people who express opinions during the tour, favored legalization.
Before the forum got started, Fetterman asked if any county commissioners or state legislators were present in the audience. He seemed genuinely surprised but was later told that the elected officials were most likely a couple of blocks away at the Triton Hose House where Wyoming County Republicans were holding their annual pre-Primary dinner.
Lemon Township resident LeeAnn Phinney led off the forum by noting she had been abruptly exposed to the issue a few years ago when she chaperoned a group of local 4-H students on a trip to Colorado.
She said it was en eye-opener.
“What people do in their own houses is their business, but I’m not sure about public spaces,” she said. “I think it defeats what we’re trying to do as a culture.”
Pressed by Fetterman as to whether that was a definite no to legalization, Phinney said, “I’d have to know a lot more to fully support its recreational use.”
Jay Sweeney, who embraced legalization of marijuana in his Green Party race against Republican Sen. Lisa Baker last fall, got up to the microphone and said simply, “In a country founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is hypocritical to criminalize the possession, cultivation or consumption of a plant."
Jerry Wiernusz looked squarely at Fetterman, and said, “I believe this is already a done deal.”
Fetterman said, “It’s not a done deal.”
Wiernusz said,”When they start talking about how they’re going to spend the money that’s realized, that’s when you know. Where do you plan on using this money?”
Fetterman insisted nothing had been decided, and “This is strictly informational.”
Wiernusz said he was "tired of spending 58 cents or 78 cents a gallon of gas in state tax money with the idea it’s going to be used to fix the roads and ends up going to the state police."
Fetterman asked Wiernusz where he stood, and he said he was undecided, “but if it does happen I hope it goes to property tax relief.”
A 20-something male who didn’t identify himself said he was definitely for legalizing and hoped any revenue realized also would go to property tax relief.
“You know, if people want this now they can get it,” he said. “Wouldn’t you feel better if it was regulated. Let’s get on the wagon before it’s too late.”
Mark Fetzko, a Tunkhannock Borough constable who said he’s had 28 years of experience in law enforcement, said, “My biggest issue or concern is I don’t understand what value we will get by doing this.”
“Right now I see it as more of a problem than a solution,” he said.
Roughly 10 persons spoke of marijuana as a gateway drug leading to only worse drug abuse.
“I’m firmly opposed,” said a man who only identified himself as being 19. “I’d like to raise a family in a society that doesn’t embrace it.”
An older gentleman said, "In my 67 years, I have never seen a vice tax that took care of the damage that it did. To be a responsible society, we should never legalize cannabis.”
Family physician Roger Sayre spoke to the addictive power of cannabis. “Any time we create an addictive person, we need to be concerned.”
He spoke of the impaired judgment and its impact on everything the user does.
“The job of our government should be to protect people,” he said. “Once we let the horse out of the barn, it won’t be possible to herd it back in.”
Sayre took issue with how the state was going about collecting information. I think we have more scientific ways to gather information and take heed. Just listening to anybody and everybody is not the best perspective.”
A female who only identified herself as a Lackawanna Trail graduate who grew up in Nicholson said she had lots of classmates who used marijuana.
“They also have lots of regrets today,” she said.
Joel Byer, who pastors a Pilgrim’s Holiness Church a couple of blocks away from the school district, said he has witnessed people drifting along and the effects of drugs on their lives.
“I’ve never seen that as a positive,” he said.
Following the forum, Sweeney was asked if he was surprised at the expressions offered in the auditorium.
“I thought more people would be for it,” he said.
Fetterman said that Wyoming County was the 57th on the tour, and the next day he would be travelling to Sullivan County and Luzerne County to gather even more information.