Guest opinion: It’s time to embrace the marijuana industry | AspenTimes.com

Guest opinion: It’s time to embrace the marijuana industry

At its noon meeting Wednesday at the Plaza 1 building on Main Street, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners will review an application that was submitted for agricultural flexibility as allowed under its code.

The project proposes to build a greenhouse near Basalt. It is a controversial proposal due to the scope as well as the crop being grown, which is marijuana. My hope is that with this letter, the community will gain insight into both the project as well as the person behind it. My dream is that we can come together and make this happen.

Since the days of the early silver miners, people have come to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley in search of good fortune and the good life. The ranchers, miners, farmers, skiers and many others who pioneered this valley subsisted on the natural resources and rejoiced in the freedoms that were afforded to them in a remote mountain setting. It was in honor of this legacy that I settled here and named my business Silverpeak Apothecary.

When established in 2009, Silverpeak Apothecary was the first medical marijuana dispensary in Pitkin County. There existed no roadmap. There was no one to loan a dollar or lend insight. But despite all of the uncertainty, there was a sense that this was a community that would rally behind those who were willing to put forth the effort to pioneer new paths. With the support of my wife and desire to provide the best life for my children, I took a leap from my career in wildlife conservation and veterinary medicine into the uncharted territory of cannabis farming.

It is with great honor and humility that over the past four years we have been fortunate enough to build a business, which is supported almost entirely by locals. Most everything we grow is for the members of the community. Those who are sick and those who are well both derive some benefits from the products we provide. To say that any substance is without risk is impossible. But when we consider the role that marijuana plays in the lives of many of those among us, it is clear that it should be respected and not feared.

As a doctor, I am well aware of the negative side effects of pharmaceuticals. As a parent, I am very concerned about the risks of tobacco and alcohol.

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Yet one would not expect the slightest concern if a pharmacy or restaurant opened in their neighborhood. A stigma persists with regard to marijuana, which is no longer consistent with the collective knowledge available or with the clear public sentiment voiced in the election results for Amendment 64. Still, this stigma (or, perhaps, lag time in open acceptance) has prevented some among us from acknowledging the very real medicinal qualities of this wonderful plant, cultivated in communities around the world since the beginning of civilization. We've gotten too used to having to be hush about something that has now been overwhelmingly approved by the electorate.

Few of us want to see unsightly buildings and massive developments. Let's not allow a small chorus of detractors to paint this project as such. What I am proposing to build is a greenhouse, both literally and figuratively. The agricultural techniques employed will be low-impact and will consume minimal natural resources. The project is properly located in a corridor that contains many developments of similar size. This is a place to grow plants using natural sunlight. It is clean industry. It is local. It will benefit many in the local work force. It is sustainable and economically viable. It is a structure that is far more consistent with the heritage of this valley than any of the metal boxes and mansions that surround it.

The size and scope of the project as requested is what is needed to remain competitive and to meet the needs of the community. If we are unable to achieve a scale that allows us to remain economically competitive, then we will struggle to prosper in the long term.

Given the extraordinary land prices, difficult topography and rigorous landapproval processes, Pitkin County has not seen an influx of people looking to grow here. In fact, there are only three licensed marijuana grows sites in the county, and this would be the only one of significant size.

Despite the disadvantages, I have chosen to locate my project here because this is where I live. This is where my children go to school. This is where my family has made a life. Let's not allow the fears of a few to exterminate the best chance for a local niche of sustainable agriculture in the valley. What seems foreign to some of us today will appear prescient to most in just a few years' time.

The electorate of Pitkin County has overwhelmingly demonstrated its support for this project through both a public opinion poll (see Aspen Times poll: 66.87 percent voted in favor of this project) as well as support for the future of the industry as a whole as evidenced by the election results for Amendment 64 for which more than 75 percent of the voters of Pitkin County were in support. It was once stated, "If the people lead, the leaders will follow." More than three out of every four residents of Pitkin County have spoken loudly and clearly in support of accepting and embracing a legal marijuana industry.

Let us respectfully remind the county commissioners that we want to carry on the legacy of the ranchers, miners, farmers and skiers who pioneered this valley. Tell them that we want to respect those who make their living off the land. Remind them that we have a right to rejoice in the freedoms that we have earned. Do not allow this moment to pass without making your voices heard. Let the leaders know the time has come to follow the voices of the people.

Please come to the hearing Wednesday to show your support. If you cannot make it, then please write, email or call the commissioners and let them know that the people of Pitkin County support this project as proposed.

Jordan Lewis is owner of Silverpeak Apothecary in Aspen.

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