Few things raise the ire of Havre residents more than chickens and pot.
A few years back, there was a proposal to allow chickens to be raised in people’s backyards. The battle between supporters and opponents was ferocious. Opponents won.
Then, in 2017 there was the debate over medical marijuana dispensaries in Havre. Large, verbose crowds showed up. Batten down the hatches. Opponents won by one vote.
Get ready for another round of the pot vote.
2020 will likely be a blistering hot political election year on the Hi-Line and the rest of Montana.
Tucked away behind the presidential, gubernatorial, Senate and local races, there will be at least one initiative in Montana to legalize marijuana. That’s not just if you’re sick. We already have that right.
The referendum will focus on whether Montanans should have the right to light up any time they want.
The generational divide, the political divide, the social divide will all come to the forefront during this debate.
Some Democrats hope the pot vote will have an effect on the other races in the ballot. Millennials will rush to the polls to approve the pot referendum, they hope, and while they are there they will vote against Trump, Gianfiorte, Daines or anyone else whose thinking runs counter to their more liberal social beliefs.
Democrats in whispers agree there is not a chance in the world that Donald Trump will fail to carry Montana and thus win its three electoral votes. But they hold out hope his victory margin will be less than the 20 percent he won by four years ago. That would make it easier for down ballot Democratic candidates.
But oops, then there’s the culturally conservative independent voters wary of legalizing pot. They are also the voters Democrats need if they are to win. They will have a balancing act to perform.
Republicans aren’t so sure the pot vote will have the effect that young people think. Even in California there were a lot of votes against legalizing pot. If the “left coast” has qualms about pot, Montanans will think more than twice before legalizing the weed. If some people in Los Angeles vote against pot, chances are people in Plentywood will also.
But if Montana’s verbose liberals and the live-free-or-die libertarians form a coalition to see that it passes, that will be only the beginning of the battle.
Over the years, Havre City Council meetings have been pretty quiet affairs.
Recently there were a few scrapes over bed-and-breakfasts, but for the most part routine matters dominate the agenda.
Council members have debated issues of major importance. A multi-million dollar bond issue for street repairs, improvements to the water system and how to handle public safety in the city at a time when needs are far greater than available money have been debated.
But it was medical marijuana dispensaries that got city residents in a tizzy.
In the end, Council voted 4-4, largely along age lines. Mayor Tim Solomon cast the deciding vote against allowing dispensaries in the city.
Solomon said he signs federal grant applications for all kinds of items, seeking money from Washington for city projects. The applications include a provision that the city will abide by and enforce all state and federal laws.
Medical marijuana is legal in Montana but against federal law. If Montana legalizes recreational marijuana, it will still be illegal under federal law, the mayor argues.
If Trump wins, it will stay illegal on the federal level regardless of what Montanas say. If the Democrats win, don’t think legalizing pot will be No. 1 on their agenda.
So, if Montana voters legalize recreational marijuana, expect Round Two of the pot debate in Havre. And don’t count on Havre being the only place in the state to get caught up in pot turmoil.
It will be a long time before the pot debate concludes.
John Kelleher is a reporter for The Herald who spent decades as a reporter and editor in various U.S. states. Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org