By Beth Dodd:
The Teller County Commissioners decided to ban recreational marijuana businesses in the unincorporated parts of the county in a two to one vote on May 9 in spite of the fact that 51% of Teller voters supported Amendment 64 which approved recreational marijuana use. The thumbs down vote came at the end of a thirty day public comment period in which 88% of the 42 comments received favored allowing recreational marijuana businesses.
In a father-knows-best manner, Commissioner Dave Paul stated that, “We are a republic. It’s not a simple vote of the people for everything. We are not going to have marijuana shops springing up like flowers,” implying that the citizens of TellerCounty are not informed enough to make this decision for themselves. Paul voted to ban recreational sales of pot.
However, Paul also made it clear that the new law will not restrict the personal use of recreational marijuana as spelled out under Amendment 64. “I know marijuana works from a medical standpoint. From a constitutional standpoint, I have a hard time saying that your happiness should be based on what I like or don’t like,” he said.
Commissioner Norm Steen, who voted with Paul to ban recreational pot businesses, said the 341 vote difference in favor of recreational marijuana out of a total of over 11,000 votes in TellerCounty did not represent a clear mandate to allow recreational pot sales. Steen also expressed concern about the disconnection between state and federal marijuana laws, and said that a ban on recreational marijuana businesses would not affect existing medical marijuana establishments in the area.
Steen also pointed out that while it is being widely touted that sales taxes from recreational weed sales will help schools, the money is earmarked for capital construction projects rather than the general school fund. Since TellerCounty has no new schools planned in the foreseeable future, our local schools will receive no benefit. He also stated that the availability of recreational pot could act as a disincentive to new businesses considering relocating to Colorado.
Commissioner Mark Dettenrieder, the only dissenting vote, said that while he did not personally agree with recreational marijuana use, he was voting based upon the will of the majority of his fellow citizens. He would like to see existing medical marijuana businesses be allowed to apply for recreational pot retail sales licenses. “I am pro-business and less government,” he said. “My personal view is second to the people’s majority view.”
Teller’s new recreational pot business ban not only prohibits recreational pot retail stores in the county, but also bans all other forms of recreational marijuana businesses, including testing and research facilities and recreational cultivation centers. This must be disappointing news for people like Lewis Lambert and Judith Negley of the Indispensary, a medical marijuana business with thirty-six employees, a cultivation facility in Florissant, and two dispensaries in Colorado Springs. “In terms of survivability, we have to transition to recreational use. We are trying to position ourselves to survive this transition,” said Lambert at the May 9 commissioners meeting. While medical marijuana operations are likely to be granted the option to ad or switch to recreational pot sales by the state, this choice has now been taken from Teller businesses. In spite of assertions by Commissioner Steen that existing businesses will not be affected by their decision, the county has now limited the ability of local medical marijuana operators to compete in an evolving marketplace.
Chairman of the Teller Tea Party Patriots, Michael Slivka, spoke out against the pot biz ban at the May 9 meeting, calling the proposal ill-conceived and accusing the commissioners of being disingenuous for opposing changes to federal gun control laws while acting to align themselves with federal marijuana laws. He also quoted two studies claiming that marijuana users are better drivers than drunk or straight drivers because they drive more slowly. According to Slivka, the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition thinks that law enforcement resources could be better used for more important things than policing marijuana users.
“There is no question that alcohol is far more dangerous, but everyone is coming down on innocuous marijuana users. Pot smokers never beat their wives. They just sit on the couch and watch TV,” Slivka said. Commissioner Paul, who once ran a bar, agreed that marijuana users are usually less aggressive than alcohol users.
TellerCounty’s latest marijuana move came just as the state finalized its own proposals for regulating recreational marijuana, squeaking in just under the wire on the final day of the legislative session. The governor is expected to sign the proposals, which include penalties for driving stoned and a possible 25% sales tax. Amendment 64 calls for the state to pass regulations governing recreational pot sale and use by July 1, to begin accepting applications for recreational pot business licenses by October 1, and to start issuing licenses by January 1, 2014. Once the state has finalized its new marijuana regulations, TellerCounty staff will research the regulations for their implications for Teller residents, and consider if further action by the commissioners would be appropriate.