Medical marijuana ban request spurs talk in Steamboat |
Mike Lawrence

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Medical marijuana ban request spurs talk in Steamboat

Police captain’s statements spark new medical marijuana debate

— The prospect of a citywide vote on whether to ban medical marijuana sales in Steamboat Springs is reminiscent of similar efforts taking place in other communities across the state.

Voters in Castle Rock and Grand Junction approved bans on medical marijuana businesses Tuesday. Legal challenges are surrounding a voter-approved ban in Loveland.

Moffat County voters decided in November to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated parts of Moffat County.

"Most of the cities that have moved toward banning have referred the question to the voters," Steamboat Springs attorney Tony Lettunich said Wednesday.

Steamboat is not yet moving toward a ban on medical marijuana centers, and the idea of a vote is purely hypothetical at this point, but the topic arose Tuesday night when the City Council conducted a first reading of proposed revisions to the city's medical marijuana regulations. Many of the revisions align the city's regulations with state legislation adopted last year. City Council gave initial approval to the city's revised ordinance, with minor clarifications. A second and potentially final reading could occur May 17.

Discussion of issues surrounding the industry, including whether to take action toward a ban of medical marijuana sales in Steaboat, could occur before that second reading, likely May 3.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Capt. Joel Rae, Dr. Brian Harrington, of Yampa Valley Medical Associates, Kate Marshall, of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, and Steamboat elementary school teacher Ann Coon all spoke Tuesday about their opinions that the industry is harming the local community, particularly by sending mixed messages to youths.

Coon said she has heard third-graders talking about medical marijuana advertisements — some of which have promoted infused products including candies — and expressing a desire to visit the businesses.

Rae said Steamboat Springs School Resource Officer Josh Carrell recently encountered a 15-year-old female student at Steamboat Springs High School who was in possession of hash oil.

"That takes it to a whole other level — this is pure hash oil, a felony-level drug, in possession of a 15-year-old girl in our public school system," Rae said.

He said the hash oil was packaged in a way that indicated it came, directly or indirectly, from a medical marijuana center.

The genie's out

Rae and Harrington's requests for consideration of an outright ban spurred quick feedback.

"I would oppose that," City Council member Jon Quinn said. "You can't put the genie back in the bottle."

Quinn said that while "there is nobody (on City Council) who wants to see marijuana in the hands of our kids," Steamboat's three centers are licensed retailers employing local workers and providing a legal service to patients.

He said efforts to ban the industry could unjustly turn "law-abiding, tax-paying businesses into criminals."

Kevin Fisher, of Rocky Mountain Remedies, one of Steamboat's three licensed medical marijuana centers, said he sent an email to City Council members Wednesday addressing the issue.

In a phone call later Wednesday, Fisher said a council-imposed ban would be an example of "micro-legislating" that would go against lengthy public discussion in Steamboat, the licenses he's received from the city, and the will of statewide voters, who legalized medical marijuana in Colorado through Amendment 20 in 2000.

Fisher also said a ban could counteract efforts to regulate distribution of medical marijuana.

"The safest and most effective way is to have closely regulated centers," Fisher said. "You shut us down … every little caregiver in the city is going to start growing."

Lettunich acknowledged that a city ban on medical marijuana centers, whether adopted by City Council or passed by voters, would not affect primary caregivers allowed to provide the drug to a limited number of patients.

A city ban also would not affect medical marijuana centers in other areas of Routt County, such as Aloha's in Milner. City Council member Walter Mag­­ill said Tuesday night that he wouldn't consider supporting a city ban without efforts in the county, too.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he spoke with Rae about the medical marijuana industry Wednesday morning.

"I wouldn't feel very comfortable instituting a ban myself, as a county commissioner, but I would sure support putting it on the ballot, just like they did in Moffat County," Monger said. But"if we have a countywide ballot issue, it still only covers the unincorporated part of the county."

There could be some urgency to the discussions. Lettunich noted that Colorado's moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses lifts July 1.

"The understanding of the attorneys that I've talked to is that if you're going to ban it, you'd be safer to ban it before July 1," Lettunich said, citing potential legal challenges.