Board bans pot shops in Mesa County
Marijuana won’t be sold in retail stores in unincorporated areas of Mesa County.
That’s because Mesa County commissioners approved an ordinance Monday banning them and any operation that cultivates marijuana or manufactures, packages or tests marijuana products.
The ordinance, however, does not address industrial hemp production.
The commissioners adopted the ordinance in response to Amendment 64, a constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters last year allowing people 21 years of age or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
The partial legalization of marijuana means people in the Grand Valley and elsewhere in the state can grow the weed themselves, but the amendment gave local governments two options for regulating it: adopt a resolution by Oct. 1 that lays out the process for licensing marijuana businesses, or adopt a resolution that bans marijuana enterprises from the area.
Commissioner Rose Pugliese said before the board voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance that her main concern with retail marijuana stores is that the weed is still illegal under federal law.
She also said taxation of retail marijuana may require voter approval. Such a taxing measure already is on this November’s ballot.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said he voted for the ordinance because he worries young people would have a greater risk of abusing marijuana if they could get it from someone who is 21 or older who could buy cannabis from a local store.
“Opportunities for underage smoking will abound” if retail outlets were available, Acquafresca said.
County resident Jeff Cook told commissioners he wishes he had waited until after his teen years to smoke marijuana, but he does not believe the substance is as harmful as some people believe, or is a “gateway drug” to harder substances, such as alcohol.
“Alcohol’s horrible for society, yet in every inch of the valley it’s promoted,” he said, citing the presence of beer gardens, liquor stores and wineries in the county.
Cook said Amendment 64 allows local and state governments to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, but marijuana regulations in the county, he said, “are not even close” to how alcohol is regulated.
“If you don’t think commerce is happening here in the Grand Valley, it is,” Cook said. “It’s called the black market.”
Local resident Darleen Gsell told commissioners she supported their decision, but worries about what is in those “black market” products.
“It’s much stronger than it was in the 60s and has chemicals and other drugs mixed in” with marijuana, she said.
That’s another argument for allowing local production, argued Grand Junction resident Christina Hoagland.
“It’s certainly not contaminated if it’s grown in the county,” she said.
Calling marijuana a “social evil,” Grand Junction resident Marjorie Haun asked commissioners to add a provision to the ordinance that would prohibit use of marijuana in public places in order to “set a good example for young people.”
Acquafresca responded Amendment 64 already bans open use of marijuana and said any additions to the ordinance that aren’t outlined in the amendment’s open the county to a lawsuit repealing the retail store ban.