Pot debate grows as Oak Creek residents voice concerns about medical marijuana | SteamboatToday.com

Pot debate grows as Oak Creek residents voice concerns about medical marijuana

Nicole Inglis

— The Oak Creek Town Board meeting Thursday night was standing room only, and many audience members were there to talk about an issue that wasn't even on the agenda.

A contingent of residents was intent on discussing medical marijuana during the public comment portion of the meeting. That included Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, who said he was invited to the meeting by a group of concerned citizens. Wiggins said medical marijuana has become a growing concern in Oak Creek.

"I'm having people call me on nearly a daily basis saying, 'Look, we've got marijuana crap all over this town,'" Wiggins said Friday. "I guess there's a housing complex in town, and they're saying trucks are coming and unloading pallets of fertilizer and they're seeing plants coming and going. It's like it's no big deal. And we're talking about residential properties."

The Town Board listened to several complaints but attempted to relegate the bulk of the discussion to a public work session scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Oak Creek resident Eric Bowman was one of the residents who chimed in during the meeting. He read from a prepared statement supporting a ban on dispensaries in Oak Creek.

Bowman said he has no problem with medical marijuana patients being entitled to their six plants and 2 ounces of marijuana per Amendment 20. But he said the situation in Oak Creek has gotten out of hand.

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"It's Pot Gulch now, and not even local potheads are amused," Bowman said.

Other members of the audience worried that the burden on police Officer Lance Dunaway would be too much, and expressed concern about electricity usage.

Dunaway also sent a memo to the Town Board, in which he wrote that he supports a ban on dispensaries because the Oak Creek Police Department — of which he is the lone officer — "is not equipped to monitor and regulate medical marijuana."

Skyler Hartman, who owns the commercial grow operation Elevation Wellness Center in downtown Oak Creek, said as far as he is aware, many residents are not concerned with his operation or that of Mary's Medical Marijuana Dispensary.

Instead, it's the growers who are operating out of homes and apartments and serving an unknown numbers of patients.

"It's the people moving their plants from their trucks to their apartment," Hartman said. "They're filling these places full of plants and being caregivers and destroying people's property. That's what the concern is. And I feel the same way.

"They're not representing the industry properly."

He said the town has the right to enact any ordinance it wants to restrict those activities without banning dispensaries and grow operations outright.

"The town has control to limit the number of patients a caregiver could have," he said.

Wiggins' presentation to the board brought up more issues than just questionable residential grow operations.

The sheriff cited a Feb. 1 letter from U.S. Department of Justice Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag to the city of Oakland, Calif., about how the possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law, and how the federal government would continue to actively enforce laws against illegal drug trafficking.

The Haag memo refers primarily to individuals and organizations involved with the unlawful cultivation, manufacturing or distribution of marijuana, stating specifically, in accordance with a 2009 Justice Department memo, that the federal government will not make it a priority to focus resources on the sick patients using medical marijuana.

Wiggins said Haag's statement presented ramifications for towns involved in medical marijuana sales.

"If you accept taxes from the sale of marijuana, you are committing a federal crime," Wiggins said. "This is a fight I don't know if the town of Oak Creek or city of Steamboat Springs wants to take on.

"I think you need to really think about this really carefully."

On Friday, Wiggins said he would be in favor of banning medical marijuana production and commerce in Oak Creek.

"I think I would do that, just based on the unknown," Wiggins said.

Similar calls for medical marijuana dispensary bans have been made in Steamboat in recent weeks. Other cities and towns across the state also are tackling the issue. A couple of them, including Grand Junction and Castle Rock, recently saw residents vote to ban commercial marijuana operations.

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