Our View: Medical marijuana centers should be banned | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: Medical marijuana centers should be banned

— Medical marijuana centers are not necessary to meet the needs of Routt County patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

Helping those patients is the extent of what Colorado residents authorized when they voted for Amendment 20 in 2000. They did not vote for — and reasonably could not have anticipated — the development of an industry that stretches the law to justify selling marijuana to recreational users. For that reason, we urge voters to ban medical marijuana centers in the November election. Specifically, voters should vote "yes" on four referendums prohibiting such centers:

■ 1A, which applies to unincorporated Routt County.

■ 2C, which applies to the city of Steamboat Springs.

■ 2E, which applies to the town of Oak Creek.

■ 2A, which applies to the town of Yampa.

Marijuana centers were born out of Amendment 20, the language of which reads: "An Amendment to the Colorado Constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana for persons suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and, in connection therewith, establishing an affirmative defense to Colorado criminal laws for patients and their primary caregivers relating to the medical use of marijuana."

The amendment allows registered patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate and possess marijuana in small amounts to meet the patients' needs. Referendums 1A, 2A, 2C and 2E would not change that — patients who truly need pot still would have access to it. Instead, the referendums would, effective Jan. 1, shut down the five marijuana centers operating in Routt County — three in Steamboat, one in Oak Creek and one in Milner.

Nothing in Amendment 20 provides for medical marijuana centers. Such centers began cropping up along the Front Range in 2008 as some interpreted the caregiver provision of the law to allow commercial operations to grow and sell significant amounts of marijuana on behalf of registered cardholders. In most cases, including in Routt County, the marijuana businesses began operating before municipalities could put rules in place authorizing or regulating them.

The local regulations enacted provide some controls on where such businesses are located and how they operate. Unfortunately, there is little accountability for who has access to medical marijuana and whether those regulations are being followed. We also question the accountability for how much product is produced and distributed and whether that quantity makes sense in relation to medical need. No parallel system of training, licensing and oversight exists to that which regulates the conventional medical world or even the liquor distribution system.

The liquor and pharmaceutical distribution regulations include substantial oversight and penalty structures for distribution or redistribution of product to unqualified individuals. There are only limited such controls in place for medical marijuana.

Consider that the latest census indicates there are 18,995 adults living in Routt County. As of July, 1,179 of them were registered medical marijuana cardholders. It defies all credibility to believe that 6.2 percent of our adult population needs marijuana to ease the symptoms of a debilitating medical condition. Our per capita cardholder rate is twice the state average and among the highest in the state.

We should note that the five marijuana centers in Routt County have provided some benefits to our economy in the form of jobs and sales tax revenues. And while the centers certainly haven't helped our community's substance abuse issues, we do not subscribe to the naïve notion that banning them will somehow solve those issues. Pot is here with or without marijuana centers.

Colorado has one of the easiest constitutions to amend. If marijuana advocates want to see marijuana legalized, then bring it before voters. If such an amendment were approved, there might be a role for marijuana centers here and across the state.

But until then, the centers are engaged in a sham that uses the guise of medicine to promote the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The centers are making a mockery of what the voters intended when they approved Amendment 20. Voters should ban them by voting "yes" on Referendums 1A, 2A, 2C and 2E.