Discussion hopes go up in smoke

By Pat Ratliff | Nov 19, 2009

By Pat Ratliff

The Beacon

Hopes of an intelligent discussion about marijuana and the impact of laws against its use were not realized at Mondays public forum, held at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

The main reason being that a discussion or conversation, both words that were used to promote the event, werent really the object of the presenters, it appeared.

Just to be sure, lets check a couple of definitions.

Wikipedia says: conversation is communication between multiple people. Conversations are the ideal form of communication in some respects, since they allow people with different views on a topic to learn from each other.

Webster says forum is an assembly, program, etc. for the discussion of public matters.

Webster also has this to say about discussion: to talk or write about; consider the pros and cons of.

Do you see a pattern here? Different views, multiple people, public matters, pros and cons, both sides of a subject. The opportunity for an evening of learning and thinking was there.

Sadly, that opportunity never materialized.

To be honest, most of those attending already felt strongly on the pro side of the issue. And thats OK, because this subject is one that people have very strong feelings about.

But preaching to the choir does little to promote discussion or raise awareness.

But enough pining for what could have been; lets cover what DID happen.

What was promised: An award winning video presentation looking at the impacts of federal and state marijuana laws.

What was delivered: An infomercial on the federal and state marijuana laws.

The format was exactly the same as used on late night television promotions. Extremely clean, well groomed audience members all listening to what was being said by the presenters on stage.

Their brows furrowed in contemplation as they listened, oh so intently, to the presentation.

Flash to a quick shot of presenters listing some fact or figure about misrepresentation of reasons for marijuana laws, then flash back to those clean familial audience members grimacing and looking worried.

It made one wonder just what those awards were that the infomercial won. It was an insult to audience members, who gave up their time in the hopes of something more.

The only thing missing was a booming voice saying, HI, BILLY MAYS HERE TO TALK ABOUT MARIJUANA LAWS!

But wait, theres more...

After the video, a distinguished panel took the stage to answer questions. Things did pick up.

Local travel guru Rick Steves; John McKay, former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington; Bud Krogh, former White House Deputy for Domestic Affairs, Nixon Administration; and state Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, 21st district.

All these people had either the personal or political background to make for a five-star discussion.

Sadly, the moderator read from a list of extremely long questions that took away from the panelists ability to engage in lively conversation. The questions also were those decided upon by the ACLU, not audience members.

This was the best part of the forum.

In spite of the format, Rick Steves was able to speak frankly and personally about his reasons for wanting to change the marijuana laws. He made a lot of sense.

Bud Krogh and John McKay were also informative, as was Mary Helen Roberts, who filled in at the last minute for Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, 36th district.

Sadly, the pre-programmed questions and the infomercial left too little time for meaningful discussion.

But wait, theres more...

Audience members who anticipated asking questions also were disappointed.

They were allowed to fill out cards with a question on it, to be read to the panelists. But that allowed someone to decide which questions would be asked.

Pre-censorship is never a good thing. In a discussion about current marijuana laws, supposedly with an audience hoping for a free exchange of information, it was, frankly, a waste of time.

The same group of people (minus the moderator and the video) sitting onstage to answer questions from an audience could be a powerful evening.

We can only hope. The discussion desperately needs to be held. It just didnt happen Monday night.

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