by Rick Langenberg
When it comes to legal marijuana and gun control, two of the main lightning rod issues across the state, Teller County government officials have surprisingly taken a seat on the sidelines.
However, county elected leaders may soon dive head first into the “Strawberry Fields” of marijuana, once touted by a popular Beatles’ song. “Stay tuned,” said Teller County Commission Vice-Chairman Norm Steen, who predicts a more defined and detailed policy position in early March regarding the rules for marijuana businesses and other aspects of addressing Amendment 64 (the state law legalizing the limited consumption and ability to grow marijuana for recreational purposes).
Contrary to their government peers in El Paso, and in most municipalities in the area, such as Cripple Creek, Woodland Park and Victor, Teller elected officials have stayed completely out of the marijuana trenches, created from the passage of Amendment 64.
But according to Steen, county leaders have been doing their marijuana homework, including monitoring the issue with key committees designated by Colorado Counties Inc., talking with law officers and justice experts and overseeing the actions of the governor’s post-Amendment 64 steering committee. “We want to make sure we get it right,” said Steen.
In previous forums, the commissioners, with a vastly new board, have publicly stated their opposition to Amendment 64, which passed by a strong majority statewide and even by a slight margin in Teller County. But at the same time, they have conceded that “the voters have spoken,” and have cited a desire to make the new law work.
Moreover, Teller leaders are still bothered by the obvious clash between federal and state policies pertaining to regulating marijuana. Marijuana is still regarded as an illegal Controlled Substance, viewed in a similar vein as heroin by the feds. Steen said he would like to see more defined policy statements by the federal government regarding how it plans to deal with pro-marijuana laws in such states as Colorado and Washington.
In a television interview earlier this year, President Obama suggested that enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized its limited use for recreational purposes won’t become a high priority for his administration, with no dedicated resources. But he fell short of announcing any broad-based policy changes in the war against drugs, and whether he favors the limited legalization of marijuana on a national scale. “You can take that for what it’s worth,” quipped Steen, who doesn’t believes these earlier statements by Obama constitute a major policy change. Previously, stern warnings by the state’s U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding licensing cannabis dispensaries in Colorado put a halt to earlier attempts to develop county rules for regulating medical marijuana.
Most government observers are predicting that Teller County will most likely follow suit with other entities in the region and will pass rules banning marijuana-related businesses. But that action won’t impact current medicinal pot shops that currently exist.
Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger said he wants to see the state take a stronger legislative role when it comes to regulating pot. “They need to legislate Amendment 64,” said the sheriff in a recent interview.“We need to know what laws to enforce,” stated Ensminger. Law officers and state officials are currently finalizing legal efforts to determine what quantities of marijuana consumption constitute driving under the influence offenses. “It is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs,” stressed the sheriff. In fact, under Ensminger’s interpretation of Amendment 64, people can’t smoke pot in their vehicles since that constitutes a public area. But he admits that interpreting many provisions of the new law can be quite challenging. Officials hope this will get worked out by a new steering committee formed by Governor John Hickenlooper.
No need for pro-Second Amendment laws
When it comes to gun control, Steen doesn’t believe the county needs to take any action or pass any symbolic gestures. The county’s GOP party has already supported the stand of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, which has proposed delaying any legislation pertaining to gun control for a year. “We support all of our constitutional amendments,” said the commissioner. Although much attention has centered on the Second Amendment, giving citizens the rights to bear arms, Steen believes a number of constitutional measures are under attack.
More local governments in Colorado are voicing a stand against some of the legislative plans progressing in the state legislature, calling for much tougher rules for background checks for gun transactions, imposing restrictions on high-capacity ammunition for semi-automatic weapons, instituting more fees on gun purchases and having no concealed weapon permits on college campuses. Most of these proposed measures were approved last week and now await action by the state Senate (see related story).
The city of Cripple Creek recently passed a strongly-worded measure that bars its employees from enforcing any new gun control laws that clash with any provisions of the Second Amendment. Although not mentioned specifically, this measure appears to criticize the slew of gun control laws proposed in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. This edict also takes a more expansive view of the Second Amendment.
In the last few months, much controversy has persisted over interpreting the Second Amendment and whether this is a collective or individual right. Some gun control advocates say the Second Amendment was more designed for the times of the Revolutionary War.
But in their new resolution, Creek officials say recent court cases have determined that citizens clearly have the right to own guns in order to defend themselves and their families, and cite the fact that more than 70 million Americans now exercise this right.
On the upside, the recent attention on gun control and marijuana has deflated attention on such issues as gaming impact dollar reductions and video lottery terminals (VLT). The latter issue has served as a thorn in the side of the gaming industry during every legislative session. A previous measure introduced last year would have opened the door for several thousand video slots at certain race tracks in Colorado, including one in Pueblo, without a public vote.
Despite all the fuss over gun control and pot, Commission Chairman Dave Paul last week predicted that another VLT bill will resurface this year. “It will rear its ugly head again,” said Paul, who warned that county leaders need to be prepared for this ongoing threat.