Divided panel eyes pot ban

Michael Edwards of Grand Junction was among 30 people who spoke Monday in a packed Mesa County Commission chambers, most of them, like Edwards, advocates for medical marijuana centers.

Against the wishes of medical marijuana advocates, Mesa County commissioners Monday reserved a spot on the November ballot for a possible question asking voters whether they want to ban medical marijuana centers in unincorporated areas of the county.

The 2-1 vote — Commissioner Janet Rowland dissented — gives the board until Sept. 3 to decide whether to put the measure to voters and craft the language for it. County Administrator Jon Peacock said he knows of 10 medical marijuana centers operating in the county outside city and town limits.

The decision came after commissioners heard three hours of testimony from more than 30 people inside a packed meeting room. Most who spoke portrayed marijuana as a misunderstood medicine that has helped patients deal with or overcome diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, and has created an economic engine that provides jobs and tax revenue at a time when neither is plentiful locally.

In her argument against a ballot measure, Rowland said a vote to ban medical marijuana centers “puts at risk individual rights” to use medical marijuana.

“It doesn’t matter if we like it. It doesn’t matter what we think of it. It’s a constitutional right. It shouldn’t be at the whim of the majority,” she said.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, however, said voters should be able to decide whether they want medical marijuana centers to operate in their community.  Acquafresca said Amendment 20, which gave constitutional permission for use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, didn’t anticipate medical marijuana centers.

Commissioner Craig Meis said he thought the issue was controversial enough that the county could benefit from additional information and testimony that would be heard as the commissioners decide whether to put the issue on the ballot.

Some medical marijuana supporters contended a ballot measure would be a waste of time and money, arguing that passage of Amendment 20 in 2000 indicated state residents want and need medical marijuana.

“We are not killing people. We are not ruining lives. We are helping people. We are helping the economy,” Clifton resident Sharon Brooks said.

Grand Junction resident Michael Edwards, who said he’s been battling cancer for 11 years, told commissioners medical marijuana center owners have purchased gas and groceries for him and showed up at his house when they were unable to contact him by phone.

“And you want to tell me this is about profit and money-making?” Edwards said, his voice shaking with emotion. “This is about me and my health.”

Several medical marijuana center owners said they aren’t opposed to a ballot question in general. But they said a ballot question this fall would put them in the tough position of having to pay thousands of dollars in application fees to the state by Aug. 1 in the face of voters possibly banning centers.

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger urged commissioners to hold a place on the ballot for a question and indicated he would vote for a ban.

Giving more people access to medical marijuana, “I don’t think that’s good for our society or our children.”

John Lynch, who owns commercial property in Grand Junction, said the county risks opening “Pandora’s box” by continuing to permit medical marijuana centers. He argued they bring down property values and that the cost of monitoring them exceeds the revenue they’d generate for the county.

At the beginning of the hearing, Meis apologized for a television clip officials played at a local municipalities’ dinner last week. The segment from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” showed a mock news reporter interviewing Denver medical-marijuana center owners. The clip rankled medical marijuana advocates who attended the meeting and ended up walking out.

Meis on Monday said he pushed for showing the segment as a way to add some levity to the meeting. In retrospect, he said, it was “very inappropriate.”

“We probably, or I, should have kept that from taking place, and I apologize for that,” Meis said.


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