Read Part One
The Chaffee County commissioners — Frank Holman, Dennis Giese and Dave Potts — were not the only elected government officials feeling anxious about making the proper marijuana choice this past month.
Every county and city in Colorado had been required, by state law, to come up with some kind of regulations by October 1. That’s tomorrow. Chaffee County made it just under the wire.
Here's the final version of the county's retail marijuana "moratorium"... which allows only certain businesses to grow marijuana. Only businesses licensed to grow Medical Marijuana in Colorado can open grow facilities in Chaffee County.
Chaffee County attorney Jenny Davis summarizes a revised marijuana ordinance at the September 26 BOCC meeting. The ordinance was further modified during the commissioner's discussion to allow additional marijuana growers to locate in the county.
According to a map dated "September 10", and distributed to the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) last week, only seven counties in Colorado had voted to legalize recreational sales and cultivation. These laws, of course, do not affect the new constitutional right granted to individual citizens to grow and consume marijuana in the privacy of their own home, resulting from the passage of Amendment 64 last November. But as we can see, as of September 10, a majority of Colorado’s counties appear to have passed laws prohibiting the retail sale and cultivation of "recreational marijuana."
In the map below, the "White" counties have legalized retail marijuana sales and cultivation, and the "Green" counties have voted to prohibit sales and cultivation. (I’m no expert in map design, but it seems to me the designer of this particular map got the colors reversed; the counties that legalized marijuana should have been shown in Green.)
Click here to download a larger version of the map.
Chaffee County is shown in light yellow in this map, indicating “Moratorium/Temporary Ban”. Of course, that designation is not exactly accurate, following the September 26 BOCC meeting at the Courthouse during which the commissioners approved, by a 2-to-1 vote, a new ordinance that will allow anyone licensed in Colorado to grow Medical Marijuana to establish a “retail grow” operation in Chaffee County.
Grow operations will be allowed, however, only in areas zoned “industrial.” (Another wacky twist to the wacky world of marijuana: an agricultural crop that cannot be grown in agricultural zoning.) We might presume, then, that the commissioners have thereby greatly increased the property values in Chaffee County’s industrially zoned areas.
Medical marijuana grower Toni Fox, owner of 3D Cannabis Center in Denver (back to camera) encouraged the commissioners to allow growers licensed anywhere in Colorado to locate retail cultivation operations within the county. Her arguments were apparently persuasive.
On Friday in Part Two, we published a thoughtful letter written by Chaffee County resident Kirby Perschbacher, wherein Mr. Perschbacher noted the potential risks to law enforcement personnel that could arise in a community that allows large commercial marijuana operations in a nation where marijuana is, generally speaking, distributed only by criminals. This criminal distribution system has been remarkably efficient here in America, and has led to a couple of notable developments.
1) Marijuana, an easy-to-grow plant that thrives in almost any soil, is priced at astronomical rates, considering the amount of work involved in its cultivation.
2) The American prison system houses nearly one quarter of the global prison population, with 2.3 million prisoners. Nearly one percent of the entire U.S. population is in prison. (By comparison, China incarcerates about 0.1 percent of its citizens.)
Each prisoner in America costs the taxpayers about $25,000 per year. The pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance estimates that American taxpayers have dished out $1 trillion on the drug war. In 1987, our state governments were spending about $19 billion per year on prisons. By 2007, the price tag had grown to $44 billion — an increase of 127 percent. (During the same 20-year period, state spending on higher education rose just 21 percent.)
These kinds of statistics can be interpreted in two very different directions.
On the one side, we have Mr. Perschbacher’s perspective: that getting involved in the drug trade, even in a state where marijuana is now legal to consume, is potentially dangerous.
On the other side, we have the fact that the War on Drugs has utterly failed on every level. As Chaffee County commissioner Dennis Giese noted during last Thursday’s BOCC meeting, any school kid who wants to buy marijuana can easily obtain it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week; alcohol, on the other hand, is available "only when the liquor stores are open".
In the midst of this complex ethical discussion — about the best way to protect our children, about a nation that has imprisoned nearly one percent of its own population, about the right of individuals to self-medicate themselves with a variety of drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana — we also have the complex tax question.
The money to run our governments.
No one seems to be exactly clear about how the taxes collected on the sale of retail marijuana will be distributed. But from what I am hearing in various government discussions, it sounds like Colorado’s state government is planning to share those taxes with county and municipal governments — but only if those same governments are allowing the sale of retail marijuana.
Currently, Chaffee County is allowing the cultivation of recreational marijuana, but not its retail sale.
Earlier this month, the Salida City Council decided to allow both the cultivation and sale of marijuana within the city limits — in a somewhat controversial manner, whereby mayor Don Stephens broke a tie vote and allowed retail marijuana sales through a business owned by his girlfriend.
Will both governments, then, receive revenues from state taxes on marijuana? Or will Chaffee County miss out, because it is not allowing sales?
Local resident Vern Davis asked the commissioners to divulge any ownership interests they might have in local marijuana business operations. All three commissioners, smiling, denied any such interests.
The City of Denver has allowed retail marijuana operations, as has Denver County. That’s 2.9 million people in the Denver metro area — out of Colorado’s total population of 5.1 million.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the United States has a higher “lifetime marijuana use” (folks who’ve used marijuana at some time during their life) than any European nation. 51 percent of Americans have used marijuana, they claim. If that’s true, Colorado has maybe 2.5 million citizens who’ve used marijuana.
Can we legally grow and sell enough to satisfy that kind of consumption?
Can we simultaneously empty out our overcrowded prisons?