Oak Creek medical marijuana debate continues | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek medical marijuana debate continues

School district, Police Department, some residents support ban on marijuana sale, commercial growth

Nicole Inglis

A sign marks the city limits of Oak Creek. A heated debate about medical marijuana is taking place in the community.

— Although the South Routt School District, Oak Creek Police Department and several residents support a town ban on the sale and commercial growth of medical marijuana, the Oak Creek Town Board is looking at forging ahead with revisions to the ordinance that was passed just more than a year ago.

"I think with state rules the way they are, a ban wouldn't solve our problems," Trustee Bernie Gagne said during a two-hour work session Thursday evening about the issue.

Several Oak Creek residents have attended recent town meetings and workshops with varying concerns, mainly about the appearance of more marijuana growth and use in residential areas.

Police officer Lance Dunaway wrote a letter to the Town Board in early April stating that he, as the lone police officer in the town, did not have the resources or training to manage the issues.

In addition, the South Routt School District dropped off a letter to the board before Thursday's workshop outlining its concerns about an observed increased in student marijuana abuse. The letter said that possible increased revenue for the town was not worth the consequences for local youths.

Soroco High School Principal Dennis Alt said that last spring, several residents and other students reported that students were leaving at lunch and consuming marijuana in the town's park.

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Teachers reported students coming to class under the influence of marijuana, and Alt said that although he didn't have numbers, several instances resulted in disciplinary action.

Those occurrences resulted in the unpopular decision to move to a closed campus this year.

Alt said although there was no reason to think the existence of a dispensary and commercial grow operation in the town directly caused the behavior, it's the culture of acceptance that concerns him.

"I think as adults we are the models in what we choose to accept and not accept in our town," Alt said. "We set the example in our town."

Still, town Trustee Lawrence Jaconetta said there have been no formal, documented complaints filed or specific numbers on rising abuse.

Jaconetta sees medical marijuana in the town as a "brand spanking new" issue, one that will take some tweaking and revising after its first year in existence.

"It obviously needs a lot more monitoring, and we have to keep curtailing and critiquing until we get this right," Jaconetta said Friday. "We won't know until we try. If it doesn't work for us, maybe a ban is an option, but we've already started going down this road, and we don't want to ruin the lives of these people who have a lot of money invested in this town for this specific reason."

Restricting growing

Several complaints were raised during the work session about a property on Sharp Street.

Neighbors say they have seen multiple marijuana plants being carried into a fourplex and other growing equipment hauled in and out of the house. Under state law, each medical marijuana cardholder is entitled to possess as many as six plants and 2 ounces of marijuana.

Dunaway said residential grow operations are more of an issue than the commercial dispensaries and commercial grow operations, of which Oak Creek has one of each.

"It's the caregiver issue that expands the whole marijuana thing and makes the enforcement an issue," Dunaway said.

The board agreed and discussed a proposal of limiting households to one caregiver per residence. They also discussed asking caregivers to register with the town and applying fees to that registration as well.

Jaconetta joked that they should set the fee for a dispensary in Oak Creek at $1 billion. The board settled on proposing a $1,000 fee to start a dispensary and raising the annual license renewal fee of $75 to something much higher.

"I'm for setting a fee for everything," Jaconetta said. "We're going to make it a lot harder to grow dope here."

The Town Board next meets at 7 p.m. Thursday at Oak Creek Town Hall. Call 970-736-2422 for more information.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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