Court puts kibosh on local Bong-a-Thon

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by David Long
Somewhere, over the cannabis-enhanced rainbow, the 32nd annual Colorado Invitational Bong-a-thon will soon be filling the state’s dreamy skies with happy smoke – a two-day celebration of the drug by a thousand adoring potheads.
But the budster bacchanalia definitely won’t be held anywhere in Montezuma County.
After a brief hearing July 22, District Judge Todd Plewe granted the county’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the event, originally planned by organizers to be held July 31-Aug. 1 in a lush grassy meadow along Highway 145 a few miles northeast of Dolores.
Plewe said under the injunction Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin “may use reasonable and appropriate means to enforce this order.” Nowlin had expressed concern that without such a court order, he lacked the legal muscle to prevent the gathering, and could only cite the organizers for violating the county land-use code once the event was underway.
Even though the county commissioners had unanimously denied special-use and high-impact permits for the gathering on June 29, organizer Chris Jetter initially indicated the Bong-a-Thon would be held as scheduled, maintaining no permit was needed other than for amplified music.
The commissioners and Planning Director LeeAnn Milligan had cited an incomplete application and lack of time for holding the required public hearing as reasons for denying the permit, but Jetter contended that the county had ample time to consider it and was only reflecting an anti-marijuana attitude prevalent among many local officials statewide.
The “Bong-a-thon” is a marijuana-smoking marathon featuring a variety of competitive events for both individuals and teams to see who can smoke the most herb, consume set amounts the fastest or continue smoking ganga for the longest period. Musical concerts and vendors of paraphernalia and hemp garb add flavor to the fume-filled festival.
According to Jetter, who owns a retail pot dispensary in the Denver area, a clandestine Bong-a-Thon was first held in 1974, continued for several years and then, after a lengthy hiatus, resurrected in 2010, being openly held in Park County for the past five years. However, Jetter told the Free Press, onerous changes in that county’s zoning regulations prompted him to seek another location.
He said he was invited to hold the festival in Stoner by Frank McDonald, who has long held ambitions to develop a marijuana-friendly resort in the Dolores River Canyon and has dubbed himself “mayor” of the unincorporated area.
The injunction was sought against Jetter, McDonald (whose role was unclear), and Ted Clark, the owner of the property off CR 38.5 on which the smoke-a-thon was to be held.
After outraged neighbors observed some initial preparations underway at the proposed location, they attended a commission meeting July 10 to seek assurance the Bong-a-Thon would be nipped in the bud, and the commissioners instructed county attorney John Baxter to request the injunction, even though there had been some strong indications on various websites – including www.bong-a-thon.com – the organizers were planning on holding it elsewhere anyway, possibly near Pueblo. Only those paying for “invitations” were being informed of the exact location.
Nowlin told the commission on July 20 he had arranged to borrow electronic signs from the state to display messages near the site informing would-be bongers that the event was cancelled.
Representing McDonald and Clark, Durango attorney Ryan Brungard, who participated in the court hearing by phone, asked Plewe to remove their names from the injunction to prevent further “negative publicity” about them. He blamed “media” for erroneously associating them with the event in the first place, even though McDonald had informed the county planning department the event would include his wedding and therefore was a private affair, and Clark is the listed owner of the parcel.
Plewe denied the request, and the injunction he issued included all three men.
(For more detailed coverage of the Bong-a-Thon saga, see the July Free Press.)

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From July 2015.