The pro-cannabis movement has officially ended in the “City Above the Clouds,” but not without a final fight.
Woodland Park has outlawed future commercial businesses and related centers that would cater to the medical-marijuana industry. In addition, city leaders have signaled the green light for further restrictions that would target legal medicinal-cannabis patients and caregivers who grow their own plants inside local residences.
However, the city’s strong anti-medical-pot edict didn’t occur without a lively debate last week, capped by a counter-argument from a well-known local newspaper columnist and staunch defender of these rights, who even displayed his bare chest to demonstrate his needs for the medicine.
As expected, the Woodland Park City Council on Feb. 3 okayed a new law that would impose a ban on the licensing of medical-marijuana dispensaries within the city limits. By taking this action, the city joined a plethora of nearly 50 cities and communities in Colorado that have designated themselves as off-limits for future dispensaries.
The Woodland Park council action followed presentations by Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May and by Woodland Park Police Chief Bob Larson.
May, a staunch critic of the medical-marijuana dispensary industry, cited a big increase in crime these outlets have produced in the Pikes Peak region. More specifically, he cited a hike in serious dispensary-related crime cases in Colorado Springs in the last year, resulting in 31 burglaries, three armed robberies and one homicide. More notably, he attributes a huge hike in illegal pot use among local teens due to the growing availability of medical marijuana. Plus, May said his agency is now dealing with 300 to 600 monthly cases of driving under the influence of drugs due to the rise in marijuana use.
And like many of the medical-cannabis critics, May complained a small percentage of physicians in Colorado are giving out 75 percent of the medical-marijuana permits. As a result, he suggested that the entire industry reeks of a considerable amount of abuse.
Larson, meanwhile, expressed concerns about the police department costs for monitoring new operations. He expects that the police department would have to spend at least 25 percent of the salary of a single officer to handle the impacts.
“The regulations are not understood,” said Larson. “It would probably be expensive.”
And Debbie Upton, the director of the North Build A Generation group, also raised the red flag about opening the door to medical-marijuana dispensaries.
According to Upton, the availability of drugs and favorable attitudes regarding this behavior rank as two of the biggest risk factors facing local teens in the area.
Not so fast
However, the anti-medical-marijuana tide encountered a counter-charge when Mountain Jackpot newspaper columnist and long-time resident Mike Parish addressed the council.
Parish, a Vietnam veteran and familiar speaker at council meetings, described himself as a medical marijuana patient, who used this medicine for relief from constant pain from a bevy of health ailments. Recently, he underwent special stomach surgery.
He took issue with many of the claims of May and Attorney General John Suthers. “Heaven forbid, he (John Suthers) has constantly tried to circumvent the will of the voters,” blasted Parish.
Parish said he didn’t necessarily enjoy the highs associated with marijuana, but that it provided much better pain relief than other narcotics. He maintained that the council is getting a one-sided story by the DA’s office not balanced by facts. “The yellow lights should has gone off,” added the newspaper columnist regarding May’s presentation. As for abuses of the system regarding physicians, he noted that the amount of violations reported haven’t amounted to that many compared to how many doctors issue permits.
During his presentation, he got extremely emotional and even addressed several council members directly. He also briefly bared his stomach and chest to depict the wounds he has experienced from his ailments.
Parish said that in his case, forcing him to grow marijuana plants would be difficult. He questioned the anti-medical marijuana agenda of the DA’s office, and believes their next round of attack is headed for the Teller County commissioners. He asked that the council delay making a final decision until they toured the medical-marijuana dispensaries in the area.
Parish’s presentation startled the council, but didn’t alter the final vote outcome. Mayor Steve Randolph stated that he has known Parish personally for years and realizes the health woes he has experienced. Randolph said the council’s action in no way would squash the rights of medicinal-marijuana patients. Moreover, he believes plenty of ample opportunities are available in the area for patients like Parish.
“It’s more of a business decision for me,” said Randolph, who questions whether the costs for regulating future dispensaries is worth the limited revenue the city may get in return.
Other council members also noted that their decision isn’t permanent, as future elected leaders could reverse their action, if new developments occur in the progression of the relatively new medical marijuana industry.
However, Councilman Terry Harrison wondered if the council is sending an anti-business message by imposing a full-scale ban. “Are we talking about a legitimate business? questioned Harrison, a leader of the Teller Homebuilders Association. “These (dispensaries) are some darn nice stores, folks,” added the councilman. “To me, it has been a struggle (in dealing with this issue).”
But Harrison never got a clear answer to his questions about the legitimacy of medical-pot industry. “There is going to be a lot more questions,” said City Attorney Erin Smith. And like any new enterprise, she noted that there would be good and bad operators. “Ultimately, it is the council’s decision,” concluded Smith.
In the final tally, the council voted unanimously to adopt a ban against medical-marijuana dispensaries and commercial grow centers.
Grappling with marijuana home-growers
But that’s only one part of the city’s challenge in dealing with the medical marijuana equation.
In a more complex scenario, Smith got the council’s go ahead to compile a future amendment to its anti-medical-marijuana law that addresses how many plants and the size of growing operations for individual medicinal marijuana patients and their caregivers. More specifically, these rules would address the issue of legal medical-marijuana plants that are permitted inside local residences. But these proposed regulations wouldn’t require patients to register with the city and the enforcement would be prompted by neighborhood complaints..
Although the city has banned commercial dispensary businesses, it can’t snuff out marijuana smoke from valid patients, based on a state law passed by the voters in 2000. This law set a limit of six plants, per patient and allows a caregiver to serve five patients.
Under one example unveiled by Harrison, a caregiver couple could have as many as 60 plants in their residence.
That fact is making some council members, including Harrison extremely nervous.
“Those (operations) are a concern to me,” said Harrison. He and other leaders see potential problems with home-growing operations not complying with building codes. “We can’t just prohibit them from happening.”
Smith said the main regulations the city could adopt for these uses would mainly limit the total amount of plants patients or caregivers could grow, and the size of these home-based operations. The city would only scrutinize these operations, if they receive official complaints, similar to other code violations, according to Smith’s proposal.
The council will discuss these rules in the near future during a scheduled executive session.