Pot is hot topic at community meeting in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Pot is hot topic at community meeting in Steamboat

Group hosts 1st meeting to discuss impact of medical marijuana on community

Jack Weinstein

Dr. Kelly Victory talks about the impacts of medical marijuana on the community of Steamboat Springs during a forum Tuesday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

— The seeds of a group opposing the sale of medical marijuana in Steamboat Springs were planted Tuesday night.

About 50 people attended a meeting about the increasingly controversial issue in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library. Many who attended spoke, either asking questions or expressing their opinions. All but one voiced concerns about the presence of medical marijuana in the community.

Steamboat residents Lisa Watts and Dr. Kelly Victory hosted the meeting. Watts said it wasn't intended to debate the issue of medical marijuana but to provide information about medical marijuana and to solicit community feedback.

At its core was bringing together like-minded residents, she said.

"Our intent is to be very involved from this point forward with a unified voice about how this has negatively impacted our community," she said.

Colorado voters approved the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions with a doctor's recommendation in 2000 by voting in favor of an amendment to the state constitution. The amendment was supported by a majority of Routt County voters, as well. The industry didn't explode until 2009, at which time three medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Steamboat. Another two have opened elsewhere in Routt County — one in Oak Creek and one in unincorporated Milner.

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Supporters of the industry cite the will of the voters 11 years ago in allowing for medical marijuana as well as the freedom of choice it provides patients and the economic benefits licensed dispensaries bring to the community.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief JD Hays and Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins attended Tuesday's meeting and said arrests for driving under the influence of drugs have increased statewide and locally during the past two years.

Victory expressed her alarm at the number of county residents who have received a doctor's recommendation and state approval to use medical marijuana. According to the most recent statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 1,143 Routt County residents have medical marijuana cards. That's nearly 5 percent of the county's more than 23,500 residents, according to the 2010 census.

Victory, a Steamboat resident who said she no longer practices medicine but is a full-time consultant in the health care industry, said she's seen how medical marijuana can positively impact people with HIV/AIDS and cancer. But that's not what's happening in Colorado, she said. Victory said 94 percent of the state's medical marijuana patients cite severe pain to a doctor they've never met to get a recommendation for the treatment.

She called it a "mockery" of the medical profession.

"Is this what we intended when we passed Amend(ment) 20?" Victory asked. "What directives do we want to give our county commissioners, our City Council, our state legislators and our federal government about this? Because it is not being managed right now, and we have what I think is a disaster on our hands."

Only Steamboat resident John Fielding, who said he is not a medical marijuana advocate, didn't express concern about its presence locally. He said medical marijuana sales tax revenues could fund law enforcement and substance abuse prevention programs.

Watts and Victory encouraged everyone at the meeting to attend next Tuesday's Steamboat Springs City Council meeting. Council members will consider a second reading of the city's medical marijuana ordinance and November ballot language for voters to decide whether to continue allowing it in Steamboat.

They also encouraged them to attend a June 21 meeting of the Routt County Board of Commissioners, when commissioners are scheduled to discuss medical marijuana issues in unincorporated areas of the county.

Victory suggested, at the very least, that those in attendance should encourage city and county leaders to extend the statewide moratorium of new medical marijuana businesses past the July 1 deadline.

Medical marijuana supporters, including the owners of Steamboat's three dispensaries, have said they plan to organize a group of their own opposing a ban of the industry here. Kevin Fisher, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies, said last week that he plans to wait until after next week's council meeting before formalizing the campaign.

Many who attended Tuesday's meeting expressed their desire for a unified campaign of their own — to support a ban of medical marijuana. Several left feeling that process had begun.

"A voice by itself won't work," Phippsburg resident Maynard Short said. "I think they're taking an ad hoc approach to a citizen group."

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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