A missed opportunity

The city clerk’s office is in the process of certifying signatures of voters who want to make recreational and medical marijuana available for purchase in the Grand Junction city limits.

Members of the group Grand Junction Cannabis Access Now, or GJ CAN, have 3,300 signatures in support of a petition to establish a regulatory framework for pot sales. If 2,254 of those signatures are valid, the Grand Junction City Council will decide in January whether to adopt the language as presented or refer it to voters in the form of a question on April’s ballot.

It’s an unsavory prospect because the language is far less restrictive than it probably should be. If approved by voters, the measure would allow business owners to apply for eight types of licenses for marijuana-related businesses, with no limits on the number of facilities that could locate in Grand Junction.

But the City Council has shown no appetite to proactively put together a proposed ballot measure that would limit the number of pot shops or confine them to a particular area. Given the chance to control what pot sales would look like — to get in front of the issue — council members decided not to do anything unless a petition forced the matter.

That’s understandable. Putting together their own ballot language may have conveyed the message that the council supports the idea. We don’t really know how they feel, because they’ve passed on engaging the public in a dialogue. Chris Kennedy is the only council member who has spoken in favor of pot sales on the argument that they control distribution channels and generate tax revenue.

Now council members, Kennedy included, will have to assess whether the proposed ballot language is something they can live with. Do they put it on the ballot and then encourage voters to reject it on the a promise that they’ll come up with something better? Do they cross their fingers, hope it gets shot down and then use the results as evidence that they were right all along not to legitimize the topic by giving it a serious discussion?

The latter would be a mistake, as this issue is likely to resurface — unless President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general chooses to enforce the federal Controlled Substance Act banning pot possession. If that happens, the legalization experiment comes to a halt everywhere.

Barring that possibility, if Grand Junction gets a chance to vote on the measure and defeats it, the city gets a chance to come to its senses and craft language that makes the most sense for residents, businesses, law enforcement and city coffers.

If nothing else, the grassroots petition serves as a wake-up call for what happens when government buries its head in the sand. The City Council should have had this conversation already. It will now out of necessity.


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