Pot issue heading for vote

County dispensary ban to be on ballot

Mesa County residents will have the chance to decide on Nov. 2 whether they want to ban medical marijuana centers in unincorporated areas of the county.

After listening to roughly two hours of testimony, county commissioners voted 2–1 Monday to place a measure on the ballot allowing voters to determine whether to prohibit those commercial centers, grow operations and the manufacturing of marijuana-infused products outside of city and town limits within the county. Commissioner Janet Rowland cast the dissenting vote.

Legislation passed earlier this year gave local governments the ability to prohibit medical marijuana centers themselves or let citizens vote on the issue.

The board’s decision likely will please medical marijuana skeptics who believe voters will banish the 10 or so retail shops currently selling cannabis in unincorporated Mesa County. On the other hand, it disappointed advocates who beseeched commissioners to work with them on regulations and argued a ban will limit patients’ ability to access something to which they’re entitled.

Dusty Higgins, owner of Nature’s Medicine, which has two locations in Grand Junction, called the decision a waste of taxpayer money and contended the dollars would be better spent on medical marijuana education.

“Why ban it when we’re already here, ready for regulations?” Higgins said. He predicted a ban will push medical marijuana sellers and growers into the city of Grand Junction.

The commissioners’ decision came less than a week after the Grand Junction City Council voted not to put a similar question on the ballot. Council members haven’t indicated what their next step will be.

Calling it the toughest issue he’s tackled in his five years on the board, Commissioner Craig Meis said he believed it was appropriate for voters to decide the issue since the electorate brought Amendment 20 to the ballot and subsequently approved it. The 2000 amendment to the state Constitution permitted marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

“It’s very hard for me to suggest that (the county commission) can now interpret the will of the people,” Meis said.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said he talked to a large cross-section of the community and received a “clear message” that citizens want the opportunity to vote on the controversial issue. He called the new legislation “imperfect” but said lawmakers made the right decision to allocate control to individual cities and counties.

Rowland disagreed, arguing that if clarification of Amendment 20 is desired, then voters statewide — not those in individual counties — should decide that since they approved the amendment.

Rowland also complained that the majority shouldn’t be able to decide what a minority have a constitutional right to do.

“I think we’re setting it up to where we limit people’s ability to access (medical marijuana),” she said.

Monday’s hearing at the county courthouse didn’t attract as many people as last month’s hearing, when commissioners approved a place-holder for a potential question. But it still drew a deep divide between those who tout medicinal marijuana’s benefits and those who warn of the drug’s potential harm.

A majority of those who spoke asked commissioners not to put the question on the ballot. Of that group, most asked the board to nix commercial sales outright.

Palisade resident Diane Cox claimed marijuana can create debilitating illnesses and is connected to a spike in student expulsions in School District 51, although she didn’t cite specific data.

“We’ve created a pot Mecca here in Colorado,” she said.

But Clifton resident and medical marijuana patient Renee Collins said cannabis has eased the pain of her dislocated hip while allowing her to function in ways traditional pharmaceutical drugs didn’t. She said she relies on retail centers because she doesn’t have enough room at home to grow medical marijuana.

“By banning dispensaries, you will push all of this into residential growing,” Collins told commissioners.


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