Meredith Carroll: Rest in peace (and pot), Basalt |

Meredith Carroll: Rest in peace (and pot), Basalt

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

I drove down to Basalt last week to have dinner with friends, only to turn around as soon I got there and go straight home. It turns out Basalt is closed — as in completely shut down. Out of business. Not a soul in sight. The windows and doors on homes, shops and buildings were boarded up. The alarm bell of rattlesnakes rang out as I swerved to avoid the skull of a bighorn sheep smack in the middle of Midland Avenue. No fewer than nine tumbleweeds skittered across the hood of my car as I cruised around slowly trying to discern if anyone was around or open for business. But no. It was clearly curtains for Old Town Basalt. Goodnight, and Godspeed.

Just kidding. We had a lovely meal at Tempranillo, and then I went back to Aspen.

However, if I were to take the High Valley Farms objectors at their word, I would think having a cannabis farm alongside Highway 82 was the final nail in Basalt’s coffin. At a Pitkin County commissioners work session last week, an overflowing crowd carped about the smell that occasionally wafts from the facility, which is located a mile and a half from the downtown area and close to the Holland Hills turnoff. The skunky stench, they argued, is negatively affecting their self-imposed, decidedly un-skunky lifestyle.

Never mind that the needle on Basalt’s crime rate hasn’t moved since High Valley Farms opened for business despite doomsday predictions to the contrary. Real estate prices have remained similarly unaffected. The town’s retail and restaurant businesses also are relatively healthy — and if they’re not, it’s Willits, not weed, that’s the probable culprit. It seems as if the only thing that’s fallen is the sky of the Chicken Littles who didn’t want a pot farm there in the first place.

But should those calling for the head of High Valley Farms really get in the habit of adjudicating how sites zoned as agricultural can be used? Is there a hierarchy among chicken, sheep, cattle, goats, apples, corn, peaches and cannabis? If you knowingly buy property near farmland, don’t you hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and by the worst, I mean the grating crow of roosters and the indelicate scent of bull s—?

It doesn’t help that reports of marijuana odor up and down the valley have been greatly exaggerated (“You can smell it all the way from Emma to Aspen Village on some days,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said). Is there, in fact, a noticeable aroma some days in the immediate vicinity of High Valley Farms? Yup. Is it widespread or poisoning anyone? Nope. This despite the comments at the commissioners meeting from Ted DeWeese, a professor of radiation oncology and molecular radiation sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. According to him, the greater the odor, the greater the levels of THC — which, he says, can pose health problems.

(Note to self: Consult DeWeese when in need of an opinion on prostates. With all due respect to the good doctor, though, when it comes to the effects of THC in the air, I’ll stick to scientific data, not his highfalutin and utterly useless brand of fearmongering.)

Perhaps even more unfair than the commissioners seriously considering not granting High Valley Farms the additional time needed to work out the kinks in the ventilation system was putting a caveat in its permit in the first place banning the emission of “marijuana-type smells.” Are breweries similarly required not to emit beer-type smells? Or nail salons polish-type smells? Is McDonald’s barred from french-fry-type smells? Does anyone not need to hold their nose when class lets out at the Vimana yoga studio on Two Rivers Road? How about the Stubby’s clientele at last call? Since when is pot the worst smell there is? And who, exactly, is the smell arbiter in this scenario?

Many in the neighborhood probably never wanted recreational marijuana legalized and definitely never wanted High Valley Farms setting up shop, so the sporadic odor seems to be the scapegoat they’re hoping will shut down the operation entirely. Their problem, though, is very much a boy-who-cried-wolf one: Maybe the smell in their homes sometimes is, actually, quite bad. But because they amassed a laundry list of hypothetical complaints before the first seed ever went into the ground, it’s hard to decipher between a real problem and their imagined ones.

Playing the regret card may be good politics for the commissioners, but it’s not very neighborly, especially when High Valley Farms now employs so many neighbors. A legal cannabis-growing operation is not a strip club, a brothel, a meth lab or even a fast-food restaurant, all of which are arguably more dangerous — and smelly. Perchance those on the warpath against High Valley Farms will pat one another on the back if their witch hunt is successful, but their teetotaler mentality is still on track to becoming the foulest stench around.

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