Rob Douglas: Dear Joe: Bring the kids

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This week, the Steamboat Today published a letter to the editor headlined “Still kid friendly?”

After announcing that his family will bring their three young children to Steamboat Springs this year for the first of many annual family ski vacations, the letter’s author, Joe Mattingly, of Houston, threatened to boycott Steamboat in the future if there’s an increased presence of marijuana in public places.

Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

In Mattingly’s words: “For me, the presence of marijuana in public areas will be a major factor. Steamboat has a very strong reputation as a place to take kids amongst many here in Houston. An increase in the presence of marijuana in public places will impact that view.”

Mattingly also made it known that if he decides to boycott Steamboat in future years, local businesses would lose the more than $35,000 he estimates his group of five families will spend and that he could be influential in keeping other Texans from coming to Steamboat.

“I am around many young affluent people in Houston, and we often discuss the best ski destinations,” Mattingly wrote. “Next year, the general conversation will almost assuredly include any noticeable changes in the pot situation.”

Mattingly signed off with, “Just thought some in Steamboat might be interested in my perspective.”

As my natural proclivity is toward the fairer sex, I hope this is the closest I’ll ever come to writing a “Dear John” letter.

Dear Joe:

You’re correct. In addition to being known as Ski Town USA, Steamboat Springs is famous for its family-friendly atmosphere. Like everyone who comes to Steamboat, your group will be greeted warmly and your kids are going to have an amazing time.

Joe, I admit that when I read your letter I was tempted to write a snarky column. By threatening to take $35,000 in vacation spending someplace else if you detect “an increase in the presence of marijuana in public places,” you rubbed some folks — myself included — the wrong way.

But instead of being flippant, I’ll be serious.

Like many communities, the Great Recession hit Steamboat hard. Unlike most communities, many businesses in Steamboat rely on the revenue they derive from tourism. To be blunt, a lot of hardworking people in Steamboat lost their jobs or homes — sometimes both — when the economy tanked. More than a few are still struggling.

So let’s turn now to marijuana.

Joe, for 20 years, I had a front row seat in the war on drugs.

Professionally, I saw many lives destroyed because elected officials enacted “zero tolerance” policies that criminalized the possession of even small amounts of drugs. I watched as judges sentenced young people convicted of possessing those drugs — including marijuana — to mandatory prison sentences that all but guaranteed those kids would never have a shot at a well-paying job because of the stigma attached to convicts and parolees.

Personally, every time I watched those sentencing hearings, the words running through my mind were, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

So Joe, I’m proud that the Steamboat Springs City Council listened to the voters and placed Steamboat in the vanguard of communities across Colorado that are trying a different approach when it comes to at least one drug — marijuana. If the result is a few more folks with the whiff of pot about them, or a group of folks discussing where to legally buy marijuana, Steamboat will still be the same wonderful town it’s always been.

Joe, I hope you and your group have a great time while you’re visiting one of the most beautiful and welcoming communities in America. With luck, you’ll be here when all of Steamboat turns out to send our Winter Olympians off to Sochi, Russia. Your kids will love seeing the Olympians.

Most of all, I hope your family comes back for many years and a Steamboat ski vacation becomes a Mattingly family tradition.

That’s my perspective, Joe. Please share it in Texas.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com

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