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Fight against El Paso County pot-shop ban starts

By: DEBBIE KELLEY
September 30, 2010
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Lost jobs and property tax revenues, more commercial real estate vacancies and foreclosures, and difficulties for patients will result if voters approve a ban on medical marijuana-related businesses in unincorporated El Paso County on Nov. 2, speakers at an opposition kickoff campaign said Thursday.

“We’re encouraging you to vote ‘No’ if you believe in patient rights and the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship, want to save jobs and protect the local economy, and want to keep businesses tightly regulated and out of our neighborhoods,” said Michael Elliott, campaign manager for Citizens for Safer Communities. Held at Penrose Public Library, the event drew about 100 attendees.

Proposition 1A would prohibit dispensaries, grow operations, and manufacturers of marijuana-related medical products, such as baked goods, from operating in unincorporated areas of the county. If passed, the measure would not remove registered patients’ ability to obtain marijuana for medicinal purposes; Colorado voters approved that as a constitutional right in 2000.

But it would mean that residents in outlying areas of the county would have to use individual caregivers to obtain their products instead of going to dispensaries, which would have to shut down by Aug. 31, 2011.

Such caregivers are not tightly regulated by the state like dispensaries are, said patient Audrey Hatfield, who has been using medical marijuana since March to control epileptic seizures. 

“Centers are a safe and caring environment. They’ve paid their money to be in business, and as long as they’re in compliance, I see no problem with them,” she said. “You can’t just walk in and say, ‘Hey, I want to buy some weed.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Local developer Steve Hammers said of the 41 applications the county received for medical marijuana-related businesses, about 10 now are functional.

He said he stands to lose $5 million worth of building projects if IA, and a similar proposal in Montrose, are approved. Hammers leases about 10,000 square feet of space in Claremont Business Park to medical marijuana businesses and had planned to construct four new buildings there at a cost of $2.3 million. He had the same type of project scheduled in Montrose. 

“Investors have put them on hold, pending the outcome of the election,” he said. “It’s too bad because the economic trickle-down effect is enormous. This industry has created desperately needed jobs for lawyers, real estate agents, banks, engineers, builders, laborers and others.”

Steven J. Wind, who supports 1A, said he believes the name of the opposition group, Citizens for Safer Communities, is an oxymoron.

“When we have drugs all over the place, it’s going to be safer? I find that hilarious,” he said. “They’re rallying to make drugs available to everybody, and I find it so pathetic that they’re trying to convince people this is a good thing.”

Wind is leading a second petition drive to place a measure banning medical marijuana operations in Colorado Springs’ city limits on the April ballot. His citizens’ group failed to collect enough signatures to get it on the November ballot. Wind said he’s confident the group, which has a Web site, www.letusvotecos.org, will succeed this time. 

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