Crested Butte: Pot-smoking town?
The three existing medical marijuana dispensaries in Crested Butte will be allowed to operate for another year. The Town Council Monday approved an ordinance extending the permits of the businesses for twelve more months.
While some council members had concerns about the dispensaries, the majority felt it was proper to give the operations another year to sell their goods. The ordinance allowing the continuation of the selling of medical marijuana passed 5-1, with councilperson John Wirsing voting against the ordinance and mayor Leah Williams not at the meeting.
“This is the least we could do and have them have another year to operate,” acting town manager Bob Gillie told the council.
“There is still another one-year fuse to see where the law goes,” added town attorney John Belkin.
“I am an owner of a condo in the same complex as the Boomtown dispensary and I am the president of the condo association, so that puts me in a similar position as the council in terms of ramifications from the feds,” said resident Harvey Castro. “I am not the least bit concerned about the threatening letters between the U.S. Justice Department and the state and towns that support medical marijuana. I support the extension for a year.”
Local business owner Steve Ryan told the council he has already made the argument that having marijuana dispensaries in town is a detriment to the local tourism industry. He said the fact the town allows dispensaries has already hurt his property management business directly, with cancelled reservations.
“But tonight I am here as a parent,” Ryan stated. “I have a 15-year-old kid and I know some of his peers smoke pot. There is a serious issue with drug use amongst the children of this town. So why allow a drug that is illegal under federal standards to be distributed? That’s not your job as elected officials. Let’s get back to being a family-friendly ski resort.”
Deb Hattendorf, who is married to the proprietor of Boomtown, said the council should “let us do our jobs and do it legally as the state has approved.”
Her husband, Stephen, again pointed out the harmful side effects of chemical prescription drugs. He also emphasized that the doctor who primarily checks out his patients is careful and detailed.
“Not everyone gets a card,” Stephen said. “And the fact is, medical marijuana is heading toward being smoked less and being ingested in other ways.”
Mike Ingle of the Crested Butte Wellness Center responded to Ryan’s position. “I too have a kid that I love but I believe teaching her the right ways and uses of medical marijuana is our responsibility as parents,” he said. “It is up to the parents to convey the message. Marijuana was here before the dispensaries and it is probably more accessible to teenagers than alcohol. The best way to keep medical marijuana properly is to keep it in an atmosphere that is appropriate and that is through the dispensary system. It is on the streets and it will be there more without the dispensaries. It’s like alcohol. Hopefully your parents taught you the correct way for it to be used.”
“It’s tough to be a parent in Crested Butte and keep kids on the right path,” countered local parent Beth Buehler. “Allowing dispensaries sends the message that it is okay to smoke marijuana. It is still illegal,” she said. “I’m tired of being on the ski slopes or on a chairlift or walking by a house in this town and seeing or smelling people smoking marijuana and then having to explain it to my kids.
“We are all trying our best to do our jobs well as parents,” Buehler continued. “But I think we may lose some families with the dispensaries. It’s an illegal activity that sends the wrong message.”
“MMJ does have medicinal uses,” said Grant Belcher of the Crested Butte Wellness Center, “and dispensaries are the way to go. Without regulation, it will be back on the streets or in the garage. It isn’t going to go away. To shut down dispensaries and think marijuana use among teenagers will go away isn’t real. I think explaining the medical properties of marijuana gives them a better idea of what it can be used for. And I want to be clear that we don’t market it to children.”
The council basically agreed. “These businesses followed our requirements and there have been no violations,” said councilperson Phoebe Wilson. “There is no reason to pull the rug out from them now. I feel strongly that we need a new approach to substance abuse in general. [As a bar owner, I dispense] a controlled substance. A level of awareness, care and responsibility is also there with the dispensary model.”
Councilman Jim Schmidt also felt the dispensary system worked. “We received several letters from people I respect with the same viewpoint as Beth and Steve, whom I also respect. It’s obviously a tough issue,” he said. “But being older, I’ve seen friends in this town suffer and MMJ is truly useful as a medicine. On the other hand, we have 39 or 40 liquor licenses and I don’t know if it has any similar applications.”
“The increase in high school use since the dispensaries opened has been documented as going from about 37 to about 41 percent,” said councilperson John Wirsing. “There are serious drug issues around here. I think while medical marijuana is a great alternative to chemical drugs, there is a tremendous amount of abuse of what is medical. A lot of people get it to use recreationally. And it does send a terrible message to kids. If we are known as a pot-smoking town, it entrenches it with our kids, so I can’t support it.”
“I agree it is not a perfect system and I hear the valid concerns from parents,” added mayor pro tem Dan Escalante. “There is clearly some abuse by cardholders but there are some seriously sick people with cards that need the help. I think we need to keep seeing how it is going.”
With that, the council voted 5-1 to extend the current permits. They will review the permits a year from now and in the meantime look to adjust the current town regulations to come more in line with state law.