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Council says no to retail marijuana

Posted: Friday, Aug 9th, 2013

Courier editor

ALAMOSA — As with medical marijuana establishments, retail marijuana businesses will not be allowed within Alamosa city limits.

In a 5-1 vote Wednesday night the Alamosa city council approved an ordinance prohibiting marijuana retail stores and related manufacturing and cultivation businesses. Councilor Marcia Tuggle voted against the prohibition. Councilors Charles Griego, Rusty Johnson, Josef Lucero, Leland Romero and Mayor Kathy Rogers voted to prohibit retail marijuana business in the city limits. Councilman Greg Gillaspie was absent.

Mayor Rogers and Alamosa Police Chief Craig Dodd said they voted for Amendment 64, which permits recreational marijuana use in the state and permits individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants, but did not believe the city should allow marijuana retail and related businesses.

Dodd said where drugs and money are combined, there is a higher potential for crime, and Alamosa already has one of the higher crime rates for cities its size in Colorado. He said public safety was his primary concern.

The city council had previously issued a similar prohibition against medical marijuana facilities in the city, and City Attorney Erich Schwiesow told the council if it changed its stance on retail marijuana it would probably need to revisit its earlier decision to prohibit medical marijuana facilities in the city.

If the council decided to allow retail marijuana establishments, Schwiesow recommended the city impose a moratorium to give staff and legal counsel time to develop rules and regulations.

Councilor Tuggle favored a six-month moratorium to provide more time to gather information and give staff time to draft an ordinance governing retail marijuana, but a motion to that effect died for lack of a second.

Schwiesow also reminded the council that Amendment 64, approved by voters statewide in 2012, included an opt-out provision for governments that might choose not to allow retail sales.

With a similar vote during its last council meeting, the council approved the marijuana prohibition ordinance on first reading and scheduled the ordinance for a public hearing for August 7.

During the public hearing on Wednesday, the majority of those who spoke were in favor of the council permitting marijuana retail businesses. Ruthie Brown, an Alamosa business owner, reminded the council that the majority of Alamosa County voters also agreed with allowing recreational marijuana use, with 3,696 voting for Amendment 64 and 2,855 voting against it.

She commended Tuggle for respecting the general populace’s wishes.

Brown said she was not happy with the city council’s earlier decision to prohibit medical marijuana businesses in the city limits, either, because she did not believe the council had the right to prohibit access to a substance that provided pain relief, helped people sleep and provided other medical benefits.

“We are so afraid of it. I don’t understand it,” she said. “I think we need to get over that.”

She added retail marijuana businesses would provide tax revenue to the city. She said she was personally aware of five businesses closing in Alamosa in the last two to three months, “so who do we let into this town?”

She said she believed those willing to invest in a retail marijuana business would run it properly and should be given the chance to do so.

“I would just say don’t be afraid.”

Retired Adams State professor Ted McNeilsmith, whose courses included sociology, criminology and criminal justice, argued if the council was going to deny people the right to buy and sell marijuana it should do the same with alcohol and in fact revoke all the liquor licenses in the city “because it is very clear that alcohol is far worse.”

Brown said there are also much worse illegal drugs. She and her husband recently removed some people from their duplex who were involved in drug dealings.

She asked why the city wasn’t trying to stop those kinds of drug sales, especially when everyone in the neighborhood knew they were going on.

Another audience member, who had lived in Holland for 10 years, said alcohol and many pharmaceutical drugs are more harmful. She said in Holland marijuana was not a big issue, or a big problem.

Andrew and Shanna Hobbs told the council the reason they moved to Alamosa from Oklahoma was because marijuana is permitted in Colorado for medicinal purposes, and Andrew had found it helped him deal with the pain he suffered with his back. He said the prescription pain drugs he was using before made him mean, while marijuana did not have that effect.

They said retail marijuana businesses would provide more taxes for the city and more affordable choices for consumers.

Dan McCann said he did not have a problem with medical marijuana but did not want to see retail stores permitted. He said although the majority may have voted for it, the council had the obligation to be leaders, not just follow the majority.

Adrian Maestas of San Luis, who has a medical marijuana business in Alamosa County, favored a moratorium on retail marijuana businesses within the city until more information could be gathered.

“It’s still against federal law,” he said.

Councilor Lucero said he was not personally against marijuana usage in any way, shape or form, whether for medical or recreational use, but he needed to work within a framework of rules and regulations, and that could take time.

“We want to do things right,” he said.

“I am just trying to be cautious.”

Councilor Tuggle said, “We really need to revisit how we view marijuana. This isn’t Haight Ashbury 1968.”

She said the city council needs to recognize how marijuana use has changed, and the council needs to respect the voters’ wishes. She favored regulation of marijuana retail sales, much like liquor licenses.

“There’s a way to manage this that’s not going to harm our community.”

Councilman Johnson said he saw a big difference between medical and recreational marijuana, and he did not have a problem allowing medical marijuana but was not comfortable with recreational marijuana businesses in the city.

He added, “I think the availability is there for recreational use as well as medical at this time for our community. There’s outlets available, you can grow your own at home, there’s options.”

Councilor Griego said just because the council is prohibiting retail marijuana now does not mean that decision is set in concrete forever. With more information and a better grip on the law governing this in the future, the council could change the ordinance, he said.

Mayor Rogers said, “I think there are a lot of unknowns that make it kind of difficult for us to move forward. It’s still against federal law. There’s still a lot of things that need to be worked out.”

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