No simple prescription for medical marijuana

The complex question of medical marijuana dispensaries — or “centers,” as they’re now legally called — was highlighted Monday before the Mesa County commissioners.

The commissioners voted 2-1 to keep a ballot spot open for a possible measure to ask voters whether to ban medical marijuana centers in unincorporated areas of the county.

The debate pitted medical marijuana users and center owners against law enforcement officials and some business owners. But it also highlighted differences among the three Republican county commissioners, with arguably the most conservative of the three siding with marijuana users.

Janet Rowland is unquestionably a social conservative. She’s made that clear on issues such as abortion and school curricula. But she is also a constitutional conservative — a strict constructionist.. To her credit, she put the state Constitution first when it came to a possible ban marijuana centers. It’s intellectually consistent with her support for the TABOR Amendment.

“It doesn’t matter if we like it. It’s a constitutional right,” Rowland said in voting against the possible ballot measure. “It shouldn’t be at the whim of the majority.”

She has a point. Even though the constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters in 2000 didn’t contemplate the medical marijuana centers that have developed over the past 15 months, there’s little question that banning the centers would significantly limit the ability of medical marijuana users to exercise their constitutional right.

The Daily Sentinel supported the laws passed by the Colorado Legislature this year that establish some regulations for the marijuana centers. The laws also authorized local governments such as Mesa County to put measures on the ballot to potentially band medical marijuana centers. But there is already talk of legal challenges to that provision in several communities and statewide. The state Supreme Court may well agree with Rowland that banning the centers would violate the constitutional right that Coloradans granted 10 years ago.

Mesa County and the city of Grand Junction should wait to see what happens with those challenges rather than rush to put similar ballot questions to voters this November.


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