Reefer Debate Continues in Teller County

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by Rick Langenberg:

Medical Marijuana Operators Seek Exceptions From Ban

 

Teller County elected leaders have taken the first step in outlawing all forms of recreational marijuana businesses, including stores, testing areas and cultivation centers, by presenting a law that prohibits these types of cannabis-related establishments.

A final verdict will occur later this spring after a 30-day public comment period. But operators and proponents of the medical marijuana industry are asking for more exceptions, especially for those who have invested thousands of dollars into running legitimate businesses.

Last week, the first public hearing on the county’s anti-pot law generated a bevy of pro-cannabis comments by people involved in the industry. Marijuana proponents weren’t exactly ready to host a Grateful Dead or Bob Marley cannabis celebration party, but they made it clear they have much at stake and are conscientious business folks who pay considerable taxes and fees. This marked a definite change from the tone of previous post-Amendment 64 meetings in Cripple Creek, Woodland Park and Victor, with the pro-pot forces clearly outnumbering the foes. “These are entrepreneurs with a capital ‘E,’” said Charles Houghton, a Colorado Springs attorney who represents many medical marijuana businesses, including some that have ties in Teller County. “It is their lives.”

Houghton argued for “making exceptions for those people in business now.” He said that is one of the proposed suggestions of a state task force, which wants current medical marijuana operator to have the initial opportunity to turn their establishments into recreational outlets with the passage of Amendment 64. “There is not going to be a great rush in Teller County,” cautioned Houghton, who previously worked as the city attorney for Cripple Creek. “We are not pushing for recreational marijuana,” said Joel Stanley, who is involved in the medical marijuana industry. But he noted that with any business, he cited the need to change with the times. He indicated that future recreational marijuana stores may give current medicinal cannabis operators more opportunities.

And from a philosophical standpoint, Woodland Park attorney Michael Slivka compared the prohibition against pot to the failed alcohol prohibition, attempted in the United States in the 1930s. He mentioned the $40 million in estimated revenue with the advent of Amendment 64 for schools and noted that the “majority of Colorado voters have spoken.” Amendment 64, while gaining strong endorsement across the state, even passed in conservative Teller County by a 51.5 percent margin.

Resident Bob Armstrong wondered how users can tell the difference between recreational and medical marijuana. Another cannabis proponent asked about whether elected leaders would rather have residents obtaining their pot in residential backyards with little oversight, or through more designated and controlled outlets. However, not everyone in the room was swayed by the pro-recreational marijuana movement. Deborah McKown of the Teller County Tea Party, who grilled the board last week about legal expenses, posed concerns about the clash between federal and state rules. “What would happen with litigation?” asked McKown.

Dave Paul, the chairman of the county commissioners, agreed. “The real problem we have is the federal government,” said Paul. “This substance is controlled (and illegal). He cited the feds fluctuating stand on medical marijuana and fears the same scenario with recreational pot. And despite comments by President Obama, indicating that allocating resources in prosecuting marijuana cases in states that have legalized its use isn’t a top priority, Paul stated that local officials need to see more concrete action. “You have to go by what he (President Obama) does (and not what he says),”said Paul. “We have a level of uncertainty. We have to act according to the way the law stands today.”

But Florissant resident Bernie Diesen expressed much distaste over the continual government feuds regarding this issue and other contentious matters like gun control. “I have never seen a government so divided,” said Diesen. “We are losing our ability to manage.” Whatever final action occurs regarding the proposed marijuana prohibition law, county officials made it clear that current operators of medical marijuana outlets and grow centers won’t be affected, along with the rights of Teller adult citizens to smoke and grow a limited amount of pot. *Residents who wish to review and comment on the new marijuana prohibition law can do so by accessing the main website of the Teller County government, www.co.Teller.co.us/ or by accessing www.mountainjackpot.com. They have until April 25 to comment on the law.