BRAWLEY — The Desert Review recently interviewed Brawley City Councilman Don Wharton about his views of the marijuana issues in Imperial County for recreational and medicinal use.
Wharton was asked what his thoughts were on introducing marijuana into the community for recreational and medicinal use from the standpoint of a city council member and and also as a member of the law enforcement community.
“I do want to separate recreational use from medicinal,” said Wharton. “On the recreational use, cultivation, preparation, transportation, sale, etc., I have spent nearly two decades working in opposition of the illicit, or illegal, front and all of the adverse ramifications that come with that, both in our community and our society. There are great costs that come with that, including incarceration, the lives ruined, and the cost to society. I know that when it comes to this particular drug, it gets painted in a light that it’s just herbal, organic, and harmless. I vehemently disagree with that notion.”
“I think that anything that is synthetic or organic should have its proper FDA vetting,” continued Wharton. “Pharmaceutical companies spend millions and millions of dollars on trial and research before drugs enter into the market. Even with that, it comes with multiple warnings and the oversight of healthcare professionals. None of that would occur if we were talking on the recreational front. I simply have a fundamental disagreement with recreational use.”
Wharton was also asked about California’s legalization of the use of marijuana in contrast with the counties and cities having a chance to determine how the placement of the facilities will be handled.
“I think the medicinal use of marijuana has some merit if it is truly going down the pathway of oversight,” said Wharton. “My issue still to this day with it is as prevalent as medicinal use is, it’s been legal, we all know that, in the state of California, as well as many other states across the country, but does it have some medicinal value? I’m sure it does. I don’t debate that. At the same time, there are a myriad of other drugs and pharmaceuticals that are available. Why the focus on this particular herb? There is a monetary aspect to it with financial gain, but with a societal cost.”
“Bottom line, it is in stark conflict with federal law,” said Wharton.
“That is my problem with it, whether you’re talking recreational or medicinal,” continued Wharton. “It is in conflict with federal law and there are still many states where it is a classified felony. I have legal issues with marijuana and as a council member, which should represent the interests of all of the community, not a select part of the community. I have to take those risks into consideration.”
“Again, I am agreeing with the fact that there may be benefits that have been raised such as glaucoma, cancer patients, chronic pain, etc., but at the same time there are other alternatives,” said Wharton. “Many times it is brought up that marijuana is the only solution. The fact is, that is not the case.”
“In the bigger picture, the direction the State of California is going to legalization,” said Wharton. “My interest becomes my community. Is this how I want to lead? Do we want to be the first to market? Do we want to be the first to say yes, yes, yes? I will be the first to support anything that is done legally. At the same time, if the power resides with local leaders, and it is up to us to decide how we want to participate in that particular industry, I feel it’s incumbent upon us to look at the pros and cons. At this moment, I am not convinced that the pros outweigh the cons when it come to the topic of marijuana.”
Wharton was also asked about those pushing for the dispensaries and the ability to move the product, and the ease residents have in getting a card or prescription for marijuana in from a doctor, and how felt about the industry coming into the community.
“This is not something that has happened overnight,” said Wharton. “This has been a movement for years, if not decades. I understand that there may be a larger portion of our society that readily accepts the legalization of marijuana. I feel that chronic use of marijuana, alcohol, or even FDA approved drugs are not a good thing.”
Then he was asked how any state can bypass federal law with the legalization of marijuana.
“We have such a large federal presence being a border county with multiple federal checkpoints,” said Wharton. “Number one, what someone needs to convince me of is, how do you in a legal fashion, have our citizens traveling in and out of our communities and counties legally, without having legal issues at checkpoints, that could come up at those checkpoints? Number two, the conflict with the law. Does that create legal issues and additional expenditures? Will citizens have to take those risks into consideration? I think they do. Again, I think that is a big part of the whole issue, being in conflict with federal law. That could be very problematic.”
“The third component to that is, how is the revenue, the actual cash and money, going to be handled?” Wharton pointed out. “Being in federal conflict, they are unable to transact these funds through FDIC or the federally insured banking system. Hence, there is really no system to tax revenues. This, to me, supports a subculture or underworld that will open up potential issues, potential controversy, and potential criminal activity. I don’t feel comfortable with the answers I have been given on how the revenues will be handled. How will the cities receive the tax benefits that are highlighted by those wanting the dispensaries if it is illegal to report earnings to federal agencies?”
“A lot of the issues that are being brought up here have not been clarified enough for me up to this point is time,” continued Wharton. “Overall, this push tells me that with the gains and benefits, there is an opportunity here for individuals and entrepreneurs. I understand that. I do not see those gains helping a city like Brawley. If this continues, California could be the largest consumer of marijuana in the country. The decision I am facing is, what role will the city of Brawley will play? I am not convinced that this is something we have to do for the betterment of our community.”