City Council rejects ban on medical marijuana centers in 4-3 decision
Members unanimously support sending issue to voters in November
May 18, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs residents will vote in November on whether to ban medical marijuana businesses in the city.
Steamboat Springs City Council decided not to enact a ban themselves Tuesday night in Centennial Hall, after nearly two hours of passionate public comment from a standing-room-only crowd that spilled into the hallway.
City Council voted, 4-3, against a ban, meaning that possibility won't return for final approval June 7. Councilwoman Meg Bentley supported a ban, along with Walter Magill and Scott Myller. City Council members Kenny Reisman, Jon Quinn, Cari Hermacinski and Bart Kounovsky voted against a ban.
City Council unanimously supported a ballot issue in November, though, deciding to ask Steamboat voters whether to ban medical marijuana centers in the city. The ballot question will be up for final approval, in the form of a resolution to finalize its language, June 7.
City Council also will discuss June 7 whether to allocate sales tax revenues from the medical marijuana industry to teen programs and youth education efforts. Also on the table that night will be whether to ask voters in November to approve an additional 5 percent sales tax on the industry for those causes.
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Finally, June 7 also will include a second reading of Steamboat's regulatory ordinance for the medical marijuana industry. City Council tabled that reading Tuesday night.
The emotional public discussion about a ban drew many spontaneous bursts of applause, protesting outbursts and occasional laughter — jeering and genuine — from the crowd.
Parents warned about effects on children, particularly from excessive or misleading advertising in local media; patients cited personal benefits from medical marijuana; doctors disputed the drug's effectiveness and raised questions about its harms; youth advocates cited increasing marijuana usage statistics; and medical marijuana center stakeholders talked about state legality, freedom of choice and local economic benefits from licensed businesses.
"I believe that this ban will result in the greatest good for the greatest number," said Steamboat Springs High School biology teacher Cindy Gay, who talked about the drug's neurological impacts and added that she was speaking as a parent, educator and community member.
"A ban does not prohibit those who truly benefit from obtaining the drug," she said.
Steamboat resident Terry Pavick, a two-time cancer survivor and father of two children, said the drug has had very positive effects on his life.
Pavick said medical marijuana works better for him than over-the-counter painkillers that "like to eat up your liver, like alcohol." He said he was Colorado's 35th medical marijuana patient after legalization of the industry.
"I was a patient when there was no dispensary," Pavick said. "It allows me to function."
After it all, Bentley moved to ban the commercial industry and said the city "should take a step back" given the uncertainty of state and federal law and the industry's effects on local youths.
"I think it's mostly the kids and the families in the city of Steamboat Springs that are taking the brunt of all of it," she said about controversy surrounding the industry. "What I am not wanting to do is make the kids get … negatively affected by all the confusion in their adults' world. So that is why I asked to ban (centers) tonight."
Myller quickly seconded Bentley's motion, and it initially appeared that the guillotine could be falling for medical marijuana centers in Steamboat.
But several council members then voiced their disagreement with a ban.
Councilman Kenny Reisman questioned what a ban would achieve — likely, he said, greater business at medical marijuana centers just outside of Steamboat, along with grow operations "next door to your house" — and said he didn't think a ban on centers would ultimately remove marijuana use from the city.
"I don't believe in the prohibition model, I believe in the education model," Reisman said.
Quinn spoke about America's massive pharmaceutical industries, seen daily in prolific television ads touting all kinds of medicines for all kinds of ailments.
"We are a country that treats Big Macs with Lipitor, and the only one who loses is the patient," he said, before paraphrasing a quote he attributed to Texas congressman and Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul.
"The day we decide the government can make our medical decisions for us is the day we decide that our bodies belong to the government," Quinn said.
He noted that Routt County is home to more than 1,000 medical marijuana cardholders, who believe the drug helps them.
"It's not my job to place a judgment on their belief," Quinn said.
Myller countered that the medical marijuana industry has grown far beyond what Colorado voters may have intended with the passage of Amendment 20 in 2000, legalizing medical marijuana patients and dispersal of the drug by caregivers.
"This is a big increase in recreational use and that wasn't what we voted for," Myller said.
Magill said the industry's prominent visibility has worsened problems.
"It's the poking in the face by what (Milner medical marijuana dispensary) Aloha's has done; it's the poking in the face by what the Steamboat Pilot (& Today) has done," Magill said, referring to advertising and news stories, respectively.
Kate Marshall, county coordinator for the youth education and substance abuse prevention group Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, had mixed reactions after the rejection of a ban.
"I think tonight's discussion was healthy and brought up a lot of great points," she said. "I am pleased that it will move to the voters."
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com