Marijuana issue splits council vote


ALAMOSA — After much public input, meetings and revisions, the Alamosa city council on Wednesday approved in a 5-2 vote an ordinance regulating marijuana growing for personal use.

Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero and Councilman Michael Stefano voted against the ordinance, with Councilors Charles Griego, Liz Thomas Hensley, Jan Vigil, Kristina Daniel and Ty Coleman voting for it.

The ordinance limits the number of marijuana plants per residence/household at 12 for personal recreational use and 24 for medical marijuana use. Residents may grow marijuana outdoors under this revised ordinance, which initially had prohibited outdoor growing. Space and locations are restricted for indoor growing.

Several residents spoke to the council before the vote on June 7 including Shanna Hobbs who is circulating petitions to place questions on the ballot this November to permit medical and/or recreational businesses in the city limits.

Alamosa City Clerk Holly Garcia told the council although she has not yet received the petitions, she understood those gathering the signatures collected a number of signatures last weekend during the SummerFest on the Rio event. She also updated the council on the date the petitions must be received, which is August 7.

Councilor Coleman said he understood the city had no previous regulation on marijuana use, so this ordinance would actually put something in place to regulate it.

City Attorney Erich Schwiesow confirmed that personal marijuana use is not regulated without this ordinance in the city. He added that this ordinance does not change the city’s current prohibitions on commercial marijuana operations in the city limits.

“This ordinance addresses personal marijuana grows whether for recreational or medical,” he said. “This is introducing some regulation that does not currently exist into how you can operate your personal grow.”

This ordinance not only regulates the number of plants but how they can be grown, he said, such as space limitations and that they cannot be perceptible (visually or with odors) to others outside the residence.

Hobbs speaks to

council

Hobbs said this is a personal issue, allowing people to grow their own medicine, which has been legalized in the state, whether it is for stress relief or chronic illness.

“This does need to be regulated. It does need to have some stipulations,” she said. That way folks who are having problems with their neighbors who are growing marijuana have a course of action to deal with it, she said. She added most people growing marijuana for themselves will not be causing problems, however.

She said she appreciated the city’s desire to make the community safer, but there are a lot more dangerous drugs such as heroin and meth in the community.

As far as the argument of protecting children from it, Hobbs said it is parents’ responsibility to protect their children, and any drugs in the home including alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drugs should be kept out of children’s reach.

She added that there are thousands of children under age 18 in Colorado using marijuana as a medicine, “to keep them from dying, to help their brain heal from epileptic seizures and those types of disabilities.”

She thanked the council for making changes to the proposed ordinance regarding plant numbers and permitting plants to be grown outdoors.

Marijuana concerns shared

Dr. Terry Wiley shared concerns about increased access and availability. He said it is because of the city’s previous conservative approach to marijuana that groups like the wildfire academy that was in town this week have been attracted to Alamosa.

Increased access and availability has led to increased crime, emergency room visits and social costs in other communities like Pueblo, Wiley said.

He referred to recent comments made by Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes reported in the Courier during marijuana discussions with city council that Alamosa has already experienced detrimental effects of marijuana being accessible in surrounding areas, and communities like Durango have seen increases in violent crime.

Wiley favored changing the ordinance back to prohibiting outdoor growing.

Sue Kanen, a resident of Alamosa for 30 years and business owner, said she was against the ordinance.

“I have five grandchildren. It’s hard enough being a parent raising them without having this all around them,” she said.

She added that she was familiar with the negative effects of recreational marijuana use, as her son suffers from the negative physical side effects resulting from his recreational marijuana use.

Kanen said she believed in the medical use of marijuana and would have wanted her daughter, who is recovering from cancer, to have access to it if she needed it.

There are ways for people to acquire both medical and recreational marijuana, she said, adding, “I don’t see a need for us to bring that into our community … I feel it would be detrimental for our community in Alamosa to bring that into the city limits.”

Her husband Don Kanen said he is more of a libertarian who believes what adults do in their own homes should be none of government’s business, “but I do have serious concerns about expanding accessibility.”

He added he was not as concerned about medical marijuana because it has a legitimate place in society, but believed the city should be as restrictive as possible regarding recreational marijuana accessibility.

“I don’t think we need to expand it any more in our city,” he said.

Former long-time Mayor Farris Bervig said he was also concerned about increased availability of marijuana in Alamosa. Like others who spoke on the issue, he did not object so much to people having access to medical marijuana if they needed it to treat illness, but he said the expansion of recreational marijuana use was “out of line.”

It’s staggering to see the reports from law enforcement about how marijuana use is affecting other communities, Bervig said, and he asked the council to consider how detrimental it could be to Alamosa as well.

He added that the way Alamosa has dealt with marijuana in the past was working, so he did not see a need to change it now.

Cynthia Walsh, who has worked with crime victims for 35 years and has been extensively researching the marijuana issue for the last three years, encouraged the city to reinstitute the ban on outdoor growing. She referred to situations where adults and children have jumped fences to get marijuana plants that were growing outdoors, which led to the fatal shooting of two teenagers who jumped a fence in Denver to get to marijuana plants.

“Allowing outdoor growing is not in the best interest of the city,” she said. “It is not in the best interest of our children. It is not in the best interest of our property values.”

In communities where marijuana is permitted to be grown outdoors, property values have been affected, she said. She added that other cities such as Denver have also suffered negative effects economically, as groups that formerly held conventions there are not interested in going there anymore because of the prevalence of marijuana.

She reminded the council of the police chief’s statement correlating increased crime to increased access to marijuana.

“Marijuana may not be the only drug we have to worry about,” she said, “but it is the issue that’s before the council tonight.”

City resident Darrell Cooper opposed the ordinance, with his biggest concern being the outdoor growing. He said he agreed that what someone does in his own home is his business, but outdoor growing affects others besides the resident.

It might also attract folks to Alamosa that may not benefit Alamosa, he said. Referring to the city’s approval of a sign designating Alamosa as a “city of champions” and acknowledging Adams State’s accomplishments in track, he asked if the city wanted to also be known as a place where marijuana is grown.

Cooper reminded the council it was an elected body and should represent its constituents.

Karl Wright, a local pastor, referred to a recent encounter he had with a youth who was not yet age 21 but had been using marijuana, with detrimental effects.

Wright quoted Governor John Hickenlooper as attributing irrevocable memory impairment to frequent marijuana use. This is especially a concern with developing brains, Wright added.

Wright also referred to Living Water Associate Pastor John Harr’s statements to the council in a previous meeting that a good number of the people who come to the church for assistance are folks who moved to Colorado and the San Luis Valley because they could grow and cultivate marijuana here.

He encouraged the council to take a conservative approach to protect everyone’s freedom.

Questions for council

Alamosa business owner Ruthie Brown questioned how the 10x10-foot restriction for indoor plant growing would work, especially since some marijuana plants can grow to a large size. She also had concerns about lighting restrictions and indicated that should be left up to the homeowner.

She also questioned the ventilation requirement of the ordinance.

“Where are they going to duct it to?” she asked, adding “I don’t know if you are making an undue hardship if there’s no problem”.

She added, “I don’t believe someone growing in their home, in their yard, if it’s fenced and contained, is going to hurt Alamosa.”

She added that she did not see marijuana users as the ones who were physically hurting others or stealing. She has seen that with people using other drugs, however, she said, like alcohol, meth and heroin.

Stefano speaks out

Councilman Stefano, who voted against the ordinance Wednesday night, was the only councilor to say he had used marijuana in the past. He said marijuana now is 10 times more potent than when he smoked it.

“I know what marijuana does. I smoked it … You don’t think it kills motivation? Smoke a joint and you will see what it does to you.”

Responding to freedoms that veterans fought for, Stefano said a lot of the men that fought in Vietnam got shot while they were under the influence of drugs.

He added that some of the people who spoke in favor of the ordinance at the previous meeting were “stoned out of their mind. They could barely talk.”

He added that children will do what they see their parents doing whether it is drugs or beating up on each other.

Stefano said when God was put on the shelf, “this country went to hell.” He disagreed with Hobbs who had said God put this plant on earth. He attributed it to the devil instead.

“Our bodies were not meant to ingest all this crap,” he added.

He said this country had lost its spine, and now everything is permitted.

“What happens to the kids is my concern,” he concluded.

Councilors favor ordinance

Councilor Hensley said since the city had no regulations before and everyone who wanted to grow marijuana could grow it, “the way I am seeing this is we are actually tightening things up. We are putting some regulations there.”

She added she did not expect to see an influx in people growing marijuana because those that were likely to grow it were already doing it.

“They are growing it outdoors already. They are growing it indoors already,” she said.

She favored the current revision of the ordinance that permits outdoor growing because she said some people cannot afford the equipment to grow it indoors.

Hensley thanked staff for putting the ordinance together.

“What we are doing here is putting boundaries that we didn’t have before,” she said.

Councilor Daniel agreed. She said restrictions in the ordinance regarding code and lighting are for fire safety, but she did not believe unless there was a complaint that law enforcement was going to be checking people’s homes to see what indoor lights they were using.

She agreed with Hensley that because of the cost to grow indoors, the city should permit outdoor growing.

She said this is ordinance is not about permitting commercial operations but is placing regulations on personal growing operations that are already occurring now in the city but without any restrictions.

“I appreciate the work staff has done on it. I am comfortable with the ordinance as it is currently,” Daniel said.

Councilman Vigil reiterated that the ordinance before the council was not about recreational and medical dispensaries — “that will be coming up soon” — but this ordinance was about regulating personal growing.

Vigil said he believed the city was being very responsible in developing an ordinance that protected the city as well as people in their own homes.

He added, “I believe this ordinance is very conservative.”

The city is not allowing large numbers of plants, for example, or allowing marijuana to be grow in in multi family dwellings.

He said he had concerns about kids jumping fences to get to marijuana but since Alamosa’s growing season is so short he was not sure if people would be able to grow it outdoors anyway.

Mayor shares thoughts

Mayor Lucero said he initially thought outdoor growing was not a bad idea but now was concerned it would be abused. He said he has seen people growing marijuana in the Valley in areas where it should not have been, such as public lands.

“Laws are passed to prevent that kind of abuse,” he said. “My responsibility as a father, a parent, a husband is to prevent abuse for anyone I love.”

He shared concerns about odor, property values and neighborhood safety if marijuana is permitted to be grown outdoors and concerns about increased criminal activity associated with marijuana in general.

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