Bong-a-Thon’s future cloudy in Montezuma County

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By David Long

After hearing that organizers of Montezuma County’s first marijuana festival seem to be moving forward without a permit, the county commissioners have directed their attorney to seek an injunction to stop them.

On Monday, July 6, after hearing from a host of citizens concerned about the smoke-fest proposed near Stoner northeast of Dolores, the board voted unanimously to have attorney John Baxter petition District Court for the injunction.

The board was also exploring other ways to stop the “32nd annual Bong-a-Thon,” as its promoters call it, in its tracks – such as closing the county road leading to the property to everyone except residents.

The commissioners had already rejected a high-impact permit the previous week for the competitive pot-smoking event, but organizers continued to sell “invitations” on the Bong-a-Thon website and were reportedly creating roads on private property near the West Fork of the Dolores near Highway 145.

The event, expected to draw more than 1,000 revelers, is slated for the weekend of July 31-Aug. 1 on a 50-acre parcel owned by Ted Clark and located off Road 38.5. It will feature contests during which pot-smokers vie to be first to consume different amounts of ganja, individually and in teams. It also offers camping and will include vendors.

A week ago, organizer Chris Jetter told the Free Press he might press on with his plans despite the county’s turn-down of his application for a special-use permit, maintaining a permit was only needed for amplified music, a stance that is contrary to the land-use code. [See Free Press, July 2015.] He also said he might try to move the event elsewhere.

Heavy equipment was reportedly seen over the weekend cutting roads into the property where the cannabis convergence is to take place and county road superintendent Rob Engelhart contacted the contractor Monday to tell him he would need a driveway permit to connect to CR 38.5, a graveled road so narrow two cars can’t pass on some stretches.

After hearing from about two dozen concerned nearby landowners, Commissioner Larry Don Suckla repeatedly suggested an injunction as one way to possibly stop the event, even though attorney Baxter expressed doubts it would give the county the necessary authority to shut it down.

“I don’t think an injunction would do much good – it doesn’t give the county any more leverage,” Baxter said. He maintained that the matter would still be a civil rather than criminal issue, with violators subject to fines or short jail sentences, but these penalties could not be imposed until after the fact.

But one man opposed to the Bong-a-Thon reminded the commission of a similar situation in the recent past.

“Didn’t the county do the same thing (get an injunction) to stop a motorcycle rally eight years ago?” he asked. “I feel like you guys are holding back.”

In 2006, county attorney Bob Slough was successful in obtaining a District Court injunction that scotched a massive biker rally planned for Echo Basin Ranch near Mancos, after an application for that event was not submitted in time. Following a day-long hearing, District Judge Sharon Hansen ruled that public safety was threatened because there had not been time to provide enough law enforcement and ensure adequate emergency medical services should they become necessary.

Similar concerns have been expressed about the Bong-a-Thon, as county planners said the application was received too late for it to go through the normal reviews by the Planning and Zoning Commission and possibly the county commissioners.

Still Commissioner Keenan Ertel told the crowd Monday that the county needed to protect everyone’s private-property rights, including those with whom neighbors may have differences.

“We are limited in our authority (regarding) what people can do on their property – we’re not a law-enforcement authority,” Ertel noted. “What they’re planning to do is not illegal – pot’s legal, having a party is legal.”

But, he added, “I think the venue is fraught with danger – they’re having contests to see how much (pot) they can consume.

“”I’m 100 percent behind you.”

Ranette Karo, the planning administrative assistant, told the commissioners the high-impact permit application was so incomplete “it was almost funny – they hardly filled out any of it.”

She said Frank McDonald, who has for years been trying to develop a lounge and resort for pot-smokers at nearby Stoner, told her the Bong-a-Thon was to celebrate his marriage.

“(McDonald) said he’s having his wedding and we can’t stop him,” Karo said.

McDonald’s role in the event is unclear, since it is not being held on his property, but the Bong-a-Thon website said McDonald had extended an invitation to hold it at Stoner.

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From July 2015.