Last week, I watched Anthony Parrinello's meticulous presentation to the Board of Selectmen about 202 Trading Company's proposed marijuana retail facility on Spring Street. As Mr. Parrinello described the security planned for the store, I was struck by a sense of creeping absurdity. Motion detectors...24-hour video monitoring...electronic keyed airlock, excuse me, "Mantrap" the time we got to the "hardened vault" to store product, I was just about losing it. I felt like standing up and saying, "GET A GRIP, PEOPLE! IT'S ONLY POT, FER CRYIN' OUT LOUD!"

Okay. Maybe it's just me. I'm an old hippie, I admit it. I don't think there's anything dangerous about marijuana...well, as long as you don't drive stoned. Not a wise move. Repeat after me: Stoned, stay home! But I don't even think psychedelics are a big deal. Not compared to pills you can buy in any drugstore in town--or to alcohol, for that matter.

I can understand 202 Trading Company's need to reassure Winchendon residents that they'll take every precaution with their products--given what happened to them at their last community outreach meeting. I think they, themselves, will be a lot safer in their new location. My chief concern about marijuana retail stores is that they'll be robbed by adult criminals, and this is far more likely in an isolated spot than in a more public one.

It's clear that the Board of Selectmen is eager to see the marijuana retail stores open, creating jobs and forking over 6% of what promise to be very healthy profits indeed to the town. Winchendon voters were in favor of the 2016 ballot question legalizing pot. But we have registered sex offenders in closer proximity to our schools than we're allowing marijuana retail stores. Does any of this fear seem misplaced to you?

Winchendon has a drug problem, all right: opioids. People are overdosing here. People are dying here. Those who are addicted to heroin or other opioids no longer know what's in the drugs they're using. Fentanyl and carfentanil are being used to cut everything, even drugs like cocaine and crack. You can get a lethal dose of fentanyl simply by getting some on your fingers by accident. But where is the worry about this? A bereaved mother whose child had fatally overdosed told me someone said to her, "They knew what they were doing, they knew the risks." When I participated in the Addictions Awareness events sponsored by Working Wonders in Winchendon, very few people attended. When UUCW tried to start a Narcotics Anonymous group in town, no one would come.

We treat addiction like a personal failing on the part of the addicted person. But those who use any drug to the point that it interferes with their ability to function, or threatens their lives, aren't suffering from a lack of morals, discipline or common sense. They're in pain, which is why drugs used to treat pain are now our major scourge. Rather than ask why addicts are using drugs, we need to start asking why these people are in such awful pain. If you saw someone writhing and screaming on the floor, you'd do something to help. But addicts don't show their pain. They're numbing it. They won't use marijuana to do that. It's not strong enough for the job.

As we should have learned by now, prohibition of anything for which there is public demand only creates an immense black market and a thriving criminal network. Marijuana should never have been illegal in the first place; the racist history of marijuana laws is well documented. Pharmaceutical opioids have never been illegal, and they shouldn't be. We need to stop focusing on the substance and start paying more attention to people. As long as so many people are so traumatized, hopeless or desperate that they'll do anything to stop the pain, it's our society that is suffering from a lack of morals, decency and common sense. That's our real "drug problem."

Inanna Arthen