City compromises on cannabis


ALAMOSA — Taking public comments into consideration, the Alamosa city council decided this week to revise the ordinance it proposes to regulate marijuana cultivation for personal recreational and medical use.

Originally proposed, the ordinance would have restricted the number of plants anyone could grow at their residence to 12. As revised, the ordinance would allow 12 plants for recreational use and 24 for medical use, which mirrors recently approved state legislation.

Originally proposed, the ordinance would have prohibited marijuana cultivation outdoors. This was one of the main focuses of public input, with several people during work sessions and other public meetings urging the council to permit outdoor growing. As revised, the ordinance would allow residents to grow marijuana outdoors under the same plant number restrictions as indoor growing. Other restrictions such as being imperceptible by sight or smell would still apply. The ordinance also requires marijuana plants to be secured in locked areas whether they are grown indoors or outdoors.

Originally proposed, permits would have been required to grow marijuana in accessory structures such as garages on the primary residence lot. As revised, the city will allow residents to grow marijuana in accessory structures without a special permit. The requirements such as the number of plants allowable would be in place regardless of where the plants were grown on the person’s property.

One area the city council and staff did not change, however, was the prohibition of marijuana cultivation in multi-family dwellings like apartment buildings.

The city council during its May 17th meeting approved the ordinance with changes on first reading and scheduled a public hearing and final approval for June 7. The vote to approve the ordinance on first reading as amended was 6-1 with Councilman Michael Stefano voting against it.

Stefano said, “If we allow it to go … what’s next? … a poppy farm? I don’t know what’s going on. We are allowing everything.”

“It’s already allowed,” Councilman Jan Vigil responded. “It’s already here … We are trying to be responsible … I think that’s commendable.”

Stefano said, “I am not against the medical end of it if it helps people. What I am concerned about is the kids.”

He said he did not want marijuana to be accessible to kids and advocated locking the plants up in greenhouses.

Stefano said he had used marijuana in the past, and it killed his motivation to work.

“There’s consequences that go with it,” he said. “It gets you high … That’s why you smoke it.”

He disagreed with those who believed it did not lead to other drugs.

“I think it does,” he said.

Two residents who had spoken against marijuana in previous meetings addressed the council again during the public comment period of Wednesday’s meeting, since the ordinance was not up for a public hearing at this stage.

Cynthia Walsh thanked the council for addressing this issue and spoke to the size the marijuana plants could grow, how marijuana has changed since the 1960’s and how important it is for people to take personal responsibility. She added that she researched the prices for indoor growing operations, since that had been a concern of marijuana proponents who said that the city’s restrictions on indoor growing would cause an economic hardship for many people. Walsh said she found that the set up for growing plants indoors could be purchased for $350-495.

Dr. Terry Wiley said the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had recommended that marijuana remain as a Schedule 1 drug because it has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S. and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision.

“I think conservatism with the Colorado experiment is well worth our time,” Wiley said.

Several other audience members spoke in favor of marijuana use and relaxing the proposed ordinance.

Sergeant Jesse said he did not see how personal marijuana use could be regulated. He said in areas where people are allowed to use it, crime rates go down.

Another man said cannabis use dates back to the 1800s and has provided pharmaceutical benefits in various forms such as oils.

He also warned that if the city regulated marijuana, it would have a war on its hands from the cartels and would create a black market and a police state, “and I don’t think the people of Colorado want to deal with that. I don’t think you want to deal with that.”

Rosanna Atencio said marijuana is an off ramp drug that can actually help people get off of some of the hard core drugs like meth and heroin.

“It can be used to help curb this epidemic,” she said. It can be an alternative to tobacco and alcohol as well, she said.

She said most people who use marijuana do not go on to use other drugs.

Atencio, who was involved in an unsuccessful application for a cannabis club in Alamosa, encouraged the council to allow such clubs in the future.

“We still want to be here for Alamosa, for the Valley,” she said.

Chloe Eberhart talked about how marijuana received its unwarranted bad reputation historically. She said many people find benefit in marijuana.

“What rights will be violated by passing this ordinance?” she asked.

“Please vote with your heart, and know we will vote with ours,” she said.

Akeem Charles said for the city to regulate the number of plants someone could grow, especially for medical marijuana use, would be saying the city council knew more than medical professionals about what a patient required. He said he knew people who required massive amounts of it to control seizures and to treat cancer symptoms. If such folks could not grow their own plants, they would have to spend money to buy medical marijuana, he added. He said many people could not afford to do that.

He added that he understood there weren’t that many complaints so he questioned why the ordinance was proposed.

Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said Coloradoans are permitted to possess marijuana and grow plants for personal and medical uses, but municipalities are allowed to regulate the number of plants allowed within the city limits, which this ordinance proposed to do.

He said the state has now passed legislation setting the number of allowable plants to 12 for personal use and 24 for medical use, much less than the 99 previously allowed for medical use. Municipalities can either allow more or less than those state limits, Schwiesow added.

Allowing unlimited numbers of plants created potential gray markets where people growing marijuana might be selling it, he explained, and also created safety problems with electrical wiring, fire hazards, mold and noxious odors.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said Colorado has been the example to other states of what not to do especially in the number of plants the state had allowed for medical marijuana purposes (up to 99.) She said 80 percent of the population will comply with regulations, but there’s always 20 percent who try to figure a way around something.

It is in an attempt to address safety issues and prevent gray market selling that the city developed this ordinance, she explained.

Schwiesow said many of the concepts included in Alamosa’s proposed ordinance came from an ordinance already existing in Douglas County.

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