Palisade rare in its vote on dispensaries

Center's honest approach aided cause, owner believes

For several days leading up to Tuesday night’s election, Jesse and Desa Loughman tossed and turned. The anxiety and emotion that accompanied the fight to keep their medical marijuana center open coursed through them, leaving them unable to sleep.

They didn’t rest Tuesday night, either — this time because of the excitement of knowing Colorado Alternative Health Care will remain in business, and their patients still will have a place in Mesa County to access their medicine.

The resounding rejection of a measure that would have shuttered the only dispensary left in Mesa County placed Palisade in select company: It’s one of only five municipalities in Colorado where voters have permitted the operation of medical marijuana centers.

Prior to Tuesday, the electorate in only two towns in the state — Fraser and Minturn — had given the go-ahead to commercial medical marijuana sales, according to the Colorado Municipal League. Palisade and the Routt County towns of Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek added to that small group Tuesday night. Fort Collins, Yampa and Brush joined 36 other cities and towns where voters have banned medical marijuana centers.

Of 72 cities and towns where elected boards have made the decision whether to allow dispensaries, two-thirds prohibited them, according to the Colorado Municipal League.

The Loughmans spent weeks walking up and down Palisade streets, painstakingly checking with hundreds of residents to see how they had voted or planned to vote on Referred Measure 2B. Toting an iPad, they helped register as voters those who previously didn’t participate in elections.

Based on that work, the Loughmans suspected they had enough votes needed to defeat the measure. But even they were surprised to see a 200-vote margin on an issue that garnered fewer than 900 total votes.

Jesse Loughman said he believes his and Desa’s efforts to create a professional, no-nonsense business model and immerse themselves in the community through service projects played a primary role in winning over voters.

“From Day One, we got involved in the community and tried to be good, solid members of this community,” Loughman said. “Palisade is a great place. We love it as much as anybody else here. It’s our home.”

He also thinks there was a backlash against the medical marijuana opponents’ campaign, which portrayed medical marijuana as a harmful drug that had become increasingly accessible to children.

“The way the campaign was run for the opposition, it was run so negative and outlandishly over the top,” he said. “I think it may have hurt them a bit.”

For patients, the continued operation of Colorado Alternative Health Care means not having to drive or arrange transportation to Rifle or Montrose, the closest communities that still have dispensaries, or find caregivers who can’t provide the variety of product that dispensaries can.

“A lot of women clientele were worried about having to get out there and find a caregiver. For them, it’s huge,” Loughman said.

For Palisade, it means a boost in revenue. Voters approved a $5 fee that will be tacked onto each transaction, a tax that’s projected to bring an additional $80,000 a year to a town that pulls in roughly $225,000 in sales-tax receipts annually.

Loughman said while the $5 fee will be tough on some patients, particularly those with fixed incomes, it’s less expensive than driving back and forth to Rifle or Montrose.

Palisade will remain a one-dispensary town for some time to come. The Town Board earlier this year adopted an ordinance that gives it the ability to license a second dispensary after the town’s population climbs above 4,000. There are currently roughly 2,700 people living in Palisade.


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