Did Reefer Madness afflict Grand Junction City Council?

Last June the Daily Sentinel characterized Grand Junction City Council’s attitude toward medical marijuana dispensaries in Grand Junction as “mellow.” Not much of that mellowness was still evident when council voted, after a public forum last month, not to place a medical marijuana question on the November ballot.

“Council will be holding further discussion soon about how they want to proceed with potentially banning or regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, and that decision will be made by them as opposed to a public vote,” the August 18 press release stated. On Sept. 1, the council ordered staff to draft a resolution that would ban all retail sales of the drug within city limits.

That vote ended a process that began in June with a plan by the City Council to hear from various stakeholders on both sides of the issue. To demonstrate their determination not to pre-judge the issue, the council even declined to hear the draft of an ordinance proffered by the city attorney to regulate dispensaries in the city.

“Good for them,” the Sentinel editorialized. “Regulating medical marijuana is a complicated issue that demands thoughtful policy, not knee-jerk legislation.”

The sincerity of the council even won over cautious owners and patients who became convinced the council was leaning toward regulating the dispensaries, not banning them. As Dusty Higgins of Nature’s Medicine told the Sentinel after a public hearing, the council seemed “very open minded about what’s coming up. They didn’t seem closed-off to where they’re going to ban it.”

The Sentinel cautioned, “While some might choose to simply ban medical marijuana, the simplicity of that approach is deceiving.”

Two months later, council members who seemed tolerant in June were leaning 7-1 in favor of banning all medical marijuana dispensaries within the city.

Later this month, an ordinance will likely be signed closing all 14 existing dispensaries and banning new ones. As the Sentinel reported, “The timing couldn’t have been worse for dispensary owners who recently invested large sums with the state for licenses and to adhere to new regulations.”

Medical marijuana will still be legal in the city, but it will be available to patients only through a designated personal “caregiver,” or by growing it at home. Rather than a limited number of well-regulated dispensaries and commercial growing operations, almost every adult in town is eligible to become a caregiver, and every backyard a potential marijuana garden.

Patients and dispensary operators alike are disappointed and angry. In order to meet new state requirements for license renewal by Sept. 1, dispensary owners and commercial growers have invested heavily in their operations. They can hardly be blamed for feeling deceived and betrayed by any lack of forewarning that the city would put them out of business.

Many patients have no idea of how or where they might find a trustworthy and reliable caregiver. For them, the dispensaries are not only the best option, they are probably the only option outside the illegal drug trade. The Mexican cartels will be happy to oblige.

In addition to patient needs, the council should consider the economic ramifications of its decision.

What possible sense does it make in the midst of a serious recession to drive these small businesses, some of which employ significant numbers of staff, out of business? How does that help with unemployment?

And why do council members think it is a good idea to take medical marijuana transactions out of the city tax base. According to City Manager Laurie Kadrich, as of June, medical marijuana centers have brought $93,000 into city coffers since they first opened last year — enough to save a couple of city employees from being laid off in the next budget cuts.

If the council members’ action is not just a case of “marijuana madness,” inspired by moral indignation and informed by propaganda, they should explain their rationale.

A decision of this magnitude, affecting a wide range of community interests, should not be just handed down from the council as an announcement in a press release.

And after they explain how banning medical marijuana dispensaries is to our benefit, maybe the council members will let us know what that draft ordinance said.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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