Garfield County voters to decide about marijuana laws | AspenTimes.com

Garfield County voters to decide about marijuana laws

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Contributed photoA trio of ballot measures regarding medical marijuana are on the Nov. 2 Garfield County ballot.

GARFIELD COUNTY – When Garfield County voters cast their ballots in the ongoing Nov. 2 general election, they are being asked whether they want to prohibit any part of the medical marijuana business in the unincorporated areas of Garfield County.

A decade ago, Colorado voters apassed a constitutional amendment permitting residents to grow, sell and consume marijuana for medical purposes.

For most of the intervening years, the industry remained low-key, with few outlets selling “medicine” to a small number of “patients” around the state.

But in February 2009, newly elected President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, announced that in the 14 states with medical marijuana laws on the books, federal drug agencies would cease to investigate or arrest anyone operating within the boundaries of those laws.

Since late last year, a new medical marijuana industry has sprung up around the state in force, prompting considerable debate and confusion about the law and its consequences.

This year, the Colorado legislature wrote a new set of laws to deal with the situation, part of which was to direct county governments to come up with their own regulations about the business.

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The owners of Hydroponic Creations, a dispensary in the unincorporated county south of Glenwood Springs, argued that the county questions are unnecessary because the state’s electorate decided the question in 2000.

“My biggest question is, if it was voted in years ago, to be legal, why is it being voted on again,” said Dale, one of the owners.

[The owners spoke on condition that their last names not be used, because they are involved in other businesses and activities that might not be seen as compatible with their dispensary operation.]

This dispensary, according to the owners, has about 240 patients that buy the products, “and I’ll say 210 of them are over the age of 45,” said Dale. He reasoned that such a clientele is in contrast with public perceptions that their customers are all young “stoners” looking to get high.

One result of a more mature clientele, he said, is that there is considerable interest in “edibles” as opposed to “smokables,” because the edible products are easier on the body and the effects are longer lasting.

“Most of my patients are tired of taking the Vicodin” and such painkillers, anti-depressants and other traditional pharmaceuticals they get from the doctor, Dale continued. Instead, he said, they use edibles or cook the buds they get at the shop, to relieve symptoms of everything from stomach cancer to hip surgery.

Justin, another owner, said that if passed, the county’s prohibition against medical marijuana will push their patients back onto the black market, facing possible jail time.

Justin also said that the black market in pot has nearly disappeared in recent years, and that “the illegal people cannot do enough business to stay in the area.”

As he prepared to set up shop, Justin said, he was told by Garfield County officials that marijuana was considered an agricultural crop and would be allowed in agriculturally-zoned areas.

But County Commissioner John Martin, who said he is not taking a position on the questions, said the staff was mistaken.

“I understand what the staff said, but they were in the dark as well,” he said. “It’s medical. It doesn’t fall under agricultural.”

Justin also questioned whether the county has the right to wipe out his investment in his business, which he said represents “almost a hundred thousand dollars” including state certification, lease payments, and outfitting his growing operation.

Martin responded by asking his own question: “Is it a vested right” to do business that is considered legal by the state but that might be rejected by county voters?

That question, Martin said, “has not been answered. I’m sure it’ll be answered in the Supreme Court in one way or another.”

Justin said he understands the county’s interest in preventing illegal activities, noting, “I’m all about local regulation … going after people who are not legally growing.”

But he has complied with the laws, he said, and his product is grown without pesticides or fertilizers, is part of a composing cycle with no wastewater to be disposed of, and is a local enterprise that he feels should be supported by the county, not ostracized.

Martin’s fellow commissioner, Mike Samson, recently wrote in a letter to the editor, “I know that the growing, manufacturing of products and marketing thereof will not be good for Garfield County. I will further unequivocally state that I know this is definitely not good for the youth of our County. Therefore, I urge all voters to vote yes for the prohibition on all three ballot questions concerning the growing, the manufacturing of, and the selling of marijuana.”

Commissioner Tresi Houpt said she was disappointed with the way the state legislature has dealt with the issue, and is not sure whether a vote now in Garfield County can overrule the will of the voters who approved the constitutional amendment in 2000.

“If it passes,” she said, “I think we’re going to push it underground and it won’t be regulated.

Therefore, she said, she believes the voters should vote “no” on all three questions.

“And then I will work very hard to see that it [the industry] is properly regulated,” she declared.

jcolson@postindependent.com