Oct 122011
 
Authors: Jason Pohl

Ballots will begin arriving Thursday for the Nov. 1 special election in which voters will decide the fate of medical marijuana dispensaries in Fort Collins, marking the peak of a long-lasting citywide disagreement.

If passed, Question 300 would close all 20 of the city’s medical marijuana, or MMJ, dispensaries in an effort to return to the patient-caregiver model.

“We want to preserve the availability of medical marijuana to legitimate, seriously ill, debilitated patients,” said Bob Powell, chairman of Concerned Fort Collins Citizens, the group that began the movement. “That was what was intended by the voters originally. We support that 100 percent.”
In 2000, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution allowing medicinal marijuana to be used for debilitating illness through designated caregivers. In 2009, the federal government took this a step further and said it would not penalize users in states where the drug was permitted.

Since then, hundreds of dispensaries have appeared around the state, and the numbers of red card holders –– those eligible for MMJ –– has risen from 500 to more than 8,000 individuals in the Fort Collins area alone.

“Let’s be honest –– It is just a charade,” Powell said.

The group gathered more than 7,500 signatures in support of the ban, far surpassing the requirement of about 4,000, even with an 11 percent invalid rate. This prompted the Fort Collins City Council to ultimately leave it up to the voters.

Those opposed to banning dispensaries within the city have joined together as Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods. The group maintains that there is a need to address the issue head-on and legalize it responsibly, rather than handle medical marijuana as it has in the past.

“We’re going to be better and safer as a community if we keep it safe and regulated, transparent and accountable, than we will ever be by trying to push it underground again,” said Terri Gomez of Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods.

Gomez said her group attributes the exponential increase in cardholders to a rise in people willing to try something new to combat the difficulties that come with the aging process. She said this is why the average user age is 41-years-old and is likely to rise in the coming years.

“Medical marijuana isn’t going to go away,” Gomez said. “It’s going to become more and more important as we age as a community to have a lot of options available.”

Supporters of Question 300 claim that the surge in dispensaries across the state has driven up usage among minors, as well as motor-vehicle accidents influenced by marijuana.

Powell said that use was encouraged by simply having the availability of marijuana through so many dispensaries. This made it easier for people of all backgrounds and conditions to obtain the substance.

Supporters of the measure claim that by closing dispensaries just as dozens of cities across the state have already done, they will begin to solve the problem.

“Dispensaries are illegal under federal law. Period,” Powell said.

But those opposed to the ban signal a need for the regulation, which reduces the dependency on shady dealings and underground markets by enforcing strict regulation and taxation. They also say that pushing away dispensaries will not solve the drug problem in schools, which they say has always existed.

“We don’t blame the pharmacies for kids using pharmaceuticals,” Gomez said. “We blame the parents.”

The issue of legalized taxation on MMJ has been raised for decades, but it is something opponents say is simply contradictory. If advocated as a medicine, those against it say it should follow suit just as all other medicines from a pharmacy –– free from taxation.

“It’s an implied comment that they (city council) see this as a recreational drug and not truly medicinal. If it was truly medicinal, they would not charge a sales tax.”

Martinez was the mayor from 1999-2005 when the original amendment was added to the constitution that legalized it for medicinal use. He said that until the dispensaries popped up in 2009, there had never been a complaint about lack of access.

“This was just another guise to push for the legalization of marijuana,” he said.

CSU’s impact on the decision:

Those on all sides of the debate recognize the key role students will likely play in the Nov. 1 decision –– an issue many have passionate opinions about.

Mason Byrd, a senior health and exercise science major, said he supports the outright legalization of marijuana, which he said will alleviate many of the issues on the table.

“I don’t think it’s fair to people who need it that they ban it,” Byrd said. “It is a viable treatment option.”

Powell said his side understands the city’s demographic has changed since the student-free months of summer. But he emphasized the issues of safety and legitimacy of the MMJ issue do and ultimately will matter to students.

“These are all legitimate concerns that, at some point, the students are going to have to face because they’ll have kids of their own,” Powell said.

Gomez echoed those, but she added that the college-age population is going to drive this election because of the general concern among young people.

“If they want an open, progressive community, now is the time for them to ensure that that’s the kind of community they live in,” Gomez said.

Ballots must be received by the Fort Collins Clerk’s Office by Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. They can either be mailed in or hand-delivered.

Follow the Collegian for updated coverage of the MMJ and other ballot issues up for decision Nov. 1.

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

The Issue

  • Question 300
  • Citizen-backed petition
  • Would ban all 20 marijuana dispensaries
  • Would require those seeking MMJ to self-grow or access other markets
  • Deadline to vote is Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
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