Pot on the ballot petition drive begins
ALAMOSA—A move is underway to place marijuana questions on the City of Alamosa ballot this fall.
Alamosa City Clerk Holly Martinez confirmed to the Alamosa city council on Wednesday night that earlier that day she approved two petitions involving marijuana issues. One of the petitions regarded medical marijuana businesses in the city. The other dealt with retail marijuana shops.
The proposed ballot questions would also limit the local regulations that would be imposed on applications for marijuana businesses, no more than what is currently required of liquor license applications.
Martinez said those circulating the petitions must gather at least 212 valid signatures for each petition by August 7 to place them on the ballot this year.
The required number of signatures is based on the number of votes cast for mayor in the last mayoral election, City Attorney Erich Schwiesow explained.
If sufficient signatures are gathered for either or both petitions, measures would then be placed on this November’s city ballot asking voters to approve or deny permission to allow retail and/or medical marijuana establishments in the city limits. Voters could approve one and deny the other or could approve or deny both.
To this point the city has prohibited marijuana businesses in the city limits.
A petition drive to place marijuana questions on a ballot last year was not successful with an insufficient number of signatures collected in time to move the issue to a ballot. Last year a special election would have had to be called, but this year the city will be holding an election anyway, since council seats are up for election.
Councilman Jan Vigil asked if the city would have the opportunity to tweak the language of the ballot questions if they received enough petition signatures to place them on the ballot. Schwiesow said the city could not change the ballot language on the questions that would be petitioned on the ballot.
“The language of the petitions is what it is,” he said.
However, he and Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said the city council could place its own alternative questions on the ballot if it wished.
For example, Brooks said neither of the currently proposed ballot questions deals with local taxes on marijuana sales, so the city council might want to consider placing its own question on the ballot that would tax marijuana sales if voters permitted them in the city limits.
Schwiesow said the city council could place other alternative marijuana questions on the ballot as well.
“It could be a very interesting looking ballot,” he said.
Schwiesow said if voters approve the ballot questions, they would become part of the city ordinances, and the council has the ability to change ordinances. The council could conceivably reverse the approval by changing the ordinances, but he added, “Politically is that smart?”
Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero asked if the city could limit the number of recreational or medical outlets if voters approve them in the city. Schwiesow said the city could do that through ordinance.
The council also discussed limiting the number of plants that can be grown in the city limits for personal use. Schwiesow reminded the council that although the city has a ban on marijuana sales in the city, state law permits individuals over the age of 21 to grow six marijuana plants per person for recreational use and in some cases up to 99 per person for medical use.
“People are still allowed to have their own personal grows of marijuana,” he said.
He said four adults over 21 in a household could have six plants each for recreational use, meaning the household would have 24 marijuana plants. A large number of marijuana plants in one house could create health and safety issues, he said. The moisture, for example, could create problems like mold. The plants could also create odor issues in the neighborhood, and the high-temperature lighting required to grow the plants could create fire hazards.
Schwiesow said a number of other communities have passed ordinances or regulations limiting the number of plants or regulating them by square footage.
“I think it is wise for Alamosa to consider similar kinds of regulation,” he said.
Regulations could cover a number of issues such as which buildings on a property plants could be grown (Douglas County, for example, does not allow them to be grown in outbuildings) and requiring landlord permission if renters are growing marijuana plants.
Schwiesow said a problem currently occurring in Colorado is the “gray market” where people who might be allowed to grow up to 99 plants for their medical marijuana use are selling some of their marijuana.
Councilman Ty Coleman said he wanted to make sure marijuana was kept in a safe area out of reach of children.
Three area residents spoke to the council regarding marijuana during the public comment period of Wednesday night’s meeting. Dr. Martin Sowards, Dr. Terry Wiley and Cynthia Walsh all shared concerns about allowing marijuana businesses in the city limits.
Dr. Sowards said in his medical practice he has seen the negative effects of marijuana use. One young patient, for example, suffered from “marijuana syndrome,” which included severe anxiety.
“Marijuana has done nothing for our community,” he said.
He specifically addressed marijuana “bars” and said if people want to go to a marijuana bar they can go to Antonito. He added that if people want to buy medical marijuana they can buy it just outside the city limits west of town, and if they want recreational marijuana, there are shops in Fort Garland and Antonito.
“It’s available,” he said. “We don’t need it in the city limits.”
Walsh said Alamosa has a high quality of life and she would like to keep it that way, without marijuana establishments. She said she was concerned that Colorado was appealing to “pot tourists” and even placing maps in hotels and restaurants of the locations of marijuana businesses. These marijuana tour maps are in the same racks as tourist brochures for places like the Pueblo zoo, she said.
“I find that very offensive,” she said.
Walsh cautioned the city to avoid the problems Pueblo and Pueblo West have invited to their communities by being “beguiled by the marijuana tax money.”
“We ought to learn from their mistakes,” she said, “and not follow down the same path.”
She added that she would like to see a way for Alamosa to address this issue permanently so it would not arise again in the future.
Dr. Wiley shared information about the increased potency of marijuana being sold today.
“It’s not the same pot smoked at Woodstock or even in the mid 1990’s,” he said.
The potency has more than tripled nationally since the mid 1990’s, he said.
He added that the number of marijuana related injuries is on the rise, as are marijuana related illnesses.