Protester: Pot foes spreading false info
A representative of the owners of the only medical marijuana dispensary operating in Mesa County argued Tuesday that petitions seeking to ban such businesses in Palisade should be declared insufficient because medical marijuana opponents spread lies and propaganda in an effort to convince citizens to sign.
Petition circulators rejected those claims and insisted town residents have the right to decide whether to allow businesses that sell medical cannabis to operate in town.
A nearly two-hour hearing on a protest filed against the petitions drew more than 60 people to the Palisade Community Center in the middle of the afternoon. Town Clerk Carol Speakman will issue a written ruling on the protest within five days. Should she declare the petitions sufficient, the Town Board will either adopt an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana centers or place a question on the November ballot. If she determines the petitions are insufficient, petitioners will have to start over on their effort.
As opposed to traditional public hearings, in which any citizen is free to speak and express an opinion, Tuesday’s quasijudicial hearing required the protester and petitioner to call witnesses who were sworn to offer truthful testimony.
Speakman attempted to narrow the focus of the hearing to the validity of the signatures, but testimony often was emotionally charged and veered off track. Several witnesses attempted to make statements without being asked questions and offer opinions and information unrelated to the legitimacy of the signatures. Two rounds of applause that followed testimony supporting the protest drew a rebuke from Speakman and a warning that police would escort them out.
In her opening statement, town resident Joyce Eielson, who filed the protest, said she contested the petitions for several reasons. She alleged the proposed ban was unconstitutional because it would effectively limit the distribution of medical marijuana to qualified patients. She also claimed petition circulators left petitions at businesses rather than witness every signature, as required by law.
Most of her arguments, though, centered on what she and Colorado Alternative Health Care owners Jesse and Desa Loughman considered false information presented on fliers that were distributed to many town residents. She tried to use that argument to challenge the validity of the signatures.
In his testimony, Jesse Loughman called the flier and statements made by medical marijuana opponents — primarily Safe and Healthy Mesa County spokeswoman Diane Cox — an “assassination of a business.” He said the fliers falsely claim medical marijuana centers have triggered an increase in crime and target teenagers.
One witness, Carol Silver, testified that Cox told her that marijuana “was going out the back door” at Colorado Alternative Health Care. Another witness, Jim Bennett, said Cox asked him to sign the petition and presented him with a flier.
“I told her that I thought the fact sheet was rather emotionally charged and inaccurate,” Bennett said.
But petitioner Dominica Steele called several petition circulators to testify Tuesday, and they said they never attempted to coerce anyone to sign the petitions and always kept the petitions in their possession.
“They failed to show any signer who felt coerced, who felt tricked into signing,” Steele said of Eielson and Jesse Loughman during her in closing argument. “They failed to show any of those.”
Petitioners, who were required to submit a minimum of 85 signatures of registered town voters, tallied a total of 191 signatures. Prior to the hearing, Speakman disqualified roughly a dozen signatures due to petitions that either contained inaccurate or incomplete information.