Ken Newton FB image

Botanists call it a glorious mystery, the night-blooming cereus that blooms once a year, always under the cover of darkness, always among others of its type.

“The Queen of the Night,” they call it informally, a desert flower, white and perfumey, showy but not for long.

Plants have their own ways and trouble themselves little with hype. But don’t sell that on the Green Mile.

My past travels to Portland, Oregon, have stirred me with the city’s natural beauty and its pleasingly out-of-the-ordinary vibe. A sign there proclaims, “Keep Portland Weird,” and inhabitants embrace this mantra.

Still, for this affection, a visit last year bothered me.

In a car riding along Sandy Boulevard, a long thoroughfare through Portland, I found myself surrounded by billboards touting the city’s considerable marijuana industry.

Oregon has laws allowing medical and recreational uses of marijuana. The state has had several years to build up the infrastructure for these legalized substances.

As with any businesses in a competitive marketplace, and in a nation that rightfully prides itself on free expression, a premium attaches itself to spreading the word of individual businesses.

A great many of them reside on Sandy Boulevard, the tell-tale green crosses marking the dispensaries and billboards spelling out the virtues of this or that shop.

So great is the power of marketing, the stretch of road has become known as the Green Mile.

I thought about this when I saw some roadside signs, small ones resembling those amply promoting campaigns each election season, only these with the distinctive marijuana leaf.

The signs, two of which stand on public right-of-way along the Belt Highway, put out the call for medical evaluations, either in person or through telemedicine. In any emerging business, the customer base does not build itself.

Casting herbs upon the water, so to speak.

There, that leaf catches the eye. And I grow uneasy.

The reason? Well, hypocrisy.

First, know this. I voted for Amendment 2 on Missouri’s November 2018 ballot. This constitutional amendment, put to voters by initiative petition, proposed to “allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes,” impose a 4 percent tax on its sale and employ the revenue for the service of military veterans.

The measure looked to generate $18 million a year for the state government and another $6 million for local governments, all of that against about $7 million in state operating costs.

I didn’t favor it for any monetary reason. Rather, I believed marijuana might ease the suffering of people with cancer, with glaucoma, with HIV and with any of a number of conditions and diseases.

As it turned out, I landed in the majority on this, with nearly 66 percent of voting Missourians supporting this.

Add to this, I not only favor the idea of free speech, I’ve made it part of my life’s work. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has afforded me many a paycheck.

Admitting all this, I confess a queasiness at seeing these signs on a St. Joseph roadway. I don’t want this city to be a place of green dispensary crosses. I don’t want school buses to drive past signs with marijuana leaves.

Accuse me of old-man sensibilities, and I will plead guilty, the evidence being lines on my face. No doubt, these facilities will be monitored, probably beyond any other industry. And some of my fellow townsfolk will benefit from them.

Hear my confession for this lack of reason. I just don’t want stare at those signs.

Ken Newton’s column runs on Tuesday and Sunday. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.