September 2010

County bans commercial MMJ

By Gail Binkly

Related stories

The Montezuma County commissioners didn't take long on Aug. 30 to decide to ban commercial medical-marijuana operations in the unincorporated county.

After listening to more than 90 minutes of public comments, most in favor of medical marijuana, the commissioners swiftly voted 3-0 in favor of a resolution banning MMJ retail centers, cultivation operations, and infused-products manufacturing.

“For us to start licensing a medical product — we don't license any medical products whatsoever,” said Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer.

“It's just sticking Montezuma County's head out to get it chopped off because the first time anything irresponsible happens, who are they going to sue? Montezuma County, because we licensed it.”

Commissioner Steve Chappell agreed, saying he didn't want to increase the size of government by having the county regulate marijuana, and Chair Larrie Rule said he had lost a daughter to a drunk driver and, “I just don’t feel like putting another drug out there that could cause this problem.”

The ban took effect immediately, and Sheriff Gerald Wallace warned any growers operating in the county that they will need to get rid of their excess plants promptly.

“If they're a caregiver, they can have that many plants (up to 30),” Wallace said. “They will have to get rid of the rest.”

The ban does not apply in the municipalities of Cortez, Mancos and Dolores, all of which allow MMJ dispensaries.

The public hearing about three dozen people, 21 of whom made comments. The vast majority were in favor of MMJ.

Three people spoke in opposition to marijuana operations — a man who said his daughter had tried marijuana and moved on to harder drugs, a woman who worried about security because she lives next to a grow operation, and Wallace, who said marijuana is definitely a “gateway” drug for some people.

He pointed out that under state law, the county cannot stop patients from growing marijuana for themselves, or caregivers from growing up to 30 plants for their patients.

A number of the speakers commented on the revenues that MMJ could bring to the county, but the majority were patients testifying about the ways the plant had improved their health and eased their suffering.

Kim Hernandez of Road 23 said she had never tried illicit drugs until after her diagnosis with cancer four years ago. “When I finally got out of the hospital I weighed 83 pounds,” she said. “My husband begged me and begged me to try marijuana. I didn't want it. I wasn't that kind of person.”

But she finally did try the drug and now she uses it regularly. “It helps me to eat,” Hernandez said. “It helps me to rest comfortably.”

A number of other people described how MMJ had helped them reduce the number of prescription pills they take.

Frank Martinez of Cortez said he takes marijuana for back and stomach problems, and it has helped. “We are so tired of taking prescriptions — taking a drug for the side effects of drugs. We want something that will actually help us without so many side effects.”

“I know it helps a lot of people,” Koppenhafer said before making the motion to ban the substance. “I hope we're not prohibiting people from getting their medical stuff taken care of, but I can't see how I can put Montezuma County in the position of being the entity liable for all this at this point.”