March Madness

Column correction: In an earlier post Monday morning ((March 29), I referred to the legal age for legalizing marijuana as 18. It’s 21. No excuse, but I tend to think of 18-year-olds as adults. They can vote. My apologies for any confusion this unforced error may have caused. HR.

Since I tried it only once in my 30s – Inhale? Yeah. – I didn’t pay close attention to the sometimes-heated debate on the potential legalization of marijuana. That is, until my oldest grandchild entered his teen years a few years ago. Typical of debate these days, there was no middle ground. Opponents, including law enforcement, saw stoned drivers all over the roads. Proponents would have marijuana dispensaries on every other corner. Now, it appears the pros will carry the day. 

Taking a break from basketball on a chilly rainy Sunday afternoon, I booted up my computer to discover a press release from freshman state senator Michelle Hinchey announcing that the governor and majority leaders of the legislature had reached an agreement to legalize “adult use” of marijuana in the Empire State. “Adult”, as defined in legislation, means 21 or older. 

Recent polls indicate upwards of 60 percent of New Yorkers favor legalization, though only about 50 percent would want sales in their neighborhoods. Curious. Putting the best spin on a controversial issue, Hinchey declared that “establishing a cannabis industry in New York” to be a “monumental step.” Indeed. Apparently, Hinchey, in again reminding us she is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, envisions rolling fields of a once illegal drug where corn and wheat grew and livestock roamed.

Undeniably, this is a big step, but to where, or to what effect?

I’m not here to rehash the pros and cons of a controversy long set in stone by extremists, but rather to challenge a process that resulted in Sunday afternoon fait accompli. Instead of grabbing headlines over how many fannies the governor allegedly pawed or how many grannies he might have placed in harm’s way, might our elected officials have discussed this “monumental” issue with constituents as it worked its way to all but official adoption?

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JUST READ IT! – With apologies to John Cougar Mellencamp, one of the best things (most of the time) of small-town journalism is interacting with readers. And one of my favorite assignments at the old Freeman was talking to school children about journalism.

I guess it was about 15 years ago when the principal of Grant Morris Elementary School in Saugerties asked me to address the school’s third grade journalism class. The kids put out their own (copy machine) newspaper and were eager to hear from somebody from a “big paper.”

There were three sections of students, about 70 altogether with teachers and aides gathered in the school’s cafeteria. Well prepared and eager to learn, each had a copy of my most recent column. Ooos and ahs erupted when I told them I wrote three of those a week.

Every kid had his or her hand up during the question-and-answer period. One will forever stand out in memory.

“Mr. Reynolds,” a young fellow asked, “You said you write three columns a week. How many is that in a year? I told him that with vacation time, it came to 147.  “And how much do you get paid for writing all those columns?” he asked.

With that, I saw some of the teachers in the back of the room put their hands over their mouths to giggles and nods. Apparently, they’d heard questions like that before from their charges: kids say the darndest things.

I wasn’t going to let some 10-year-old kid put me on the spot. Having covered evasive politicians for longer than they had been alive, I lamely offered, “Well, I get paid every Wednesday.”

The kid, no doubt a future journalist, was having none of that. “I didn’t ask you when you got paid, Mr. Reynolds,” he said, politely. “I asked you how much you got paid.”

The site of teachers, rocking with suppressed laughter, gave me inspiration.

“Let me put it this way, young man,” I said. “I get paid about as much as a tenured teacher at this school, and quite frankly, I don’t think any of us are paid what we’re worth.” To my relief, the kid sat down. Had he asked me just one more time, I would have confessed.

Sunday morning, I ran into a reader at breakfast named George who said he was a retired teacher and a regular reader. We chatted a bit and then since he was a teacher, I proceeded to regale him with my Grant Morse story.

As I got to “Let me put it this way, young man,” he interjected, “Then you said you got paid as much as a tenured teacher.”

How could he have known that?

He explained. “I was with a group of teachers that was interviewing visiting various businesses in the community to bring back information to our students. We came to the Freeman and you were there with some other editors in what was it, the editorial board room? Naturally, we wouldn’t ask a direct question about salaries like a child might, it was more of a general question. And that was your answer. I never forgot it.”

Nice exchange.

PS: The Morse kids gave me a bright yellow t-shirt with  “Just Read It” on the front and “Just Print It” on the back with “The Voice of Grant D. Morse Student Body” on the back.

It’s faded some, but I still wear it proudly.