Montezuma County just says ‘no’ to pot

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There’ll be no commercial pot farming in the unincorporated parts of Montezuma County, at least in the immediate future, the county commissioners decided unanimously on June 30.

Nor will any budding entrepreneurs be selling marijuana at the retail level outside two of the county’s municipalities – Cortez and Mancos – where medical-marijuana clinics are already established and the elected boards are currently considering whether to allow outlets for recreational users as well.

Although the extension of the county’s existing ban on such operations was no surprise, it still drew angry comments from some of the audience who had spoken in favor of them during the public hearing that preceded the vote.

“You’re insinuating that people who smoke pot are lazy and worthless,” snapped Lewis resident Ed Sheets, who had outlined detailed plans for a grow operation during a previous conversation with the commissioners.

“You’d made up your minds before this [hearing] ever started.”

Sheets, who had indicated he was willing to invest a million dollars in a large-scale farm adhering to all state regulations, was responding to comments made by Commissioner Larry Don Suckla explaining his opposition.

“I’m sure people are happy when they’re smoking pot,” Suckla had observed, “[but] this country wasn’t made by people being happy all the time.” He explained his father had raised him to believe it is often necessary to delay gratification and work hard at unpleasant tasks to attain long-term happiness.

Commissioner Keenan Ertel pointed out that the majority of county residents had voted against legalizing the use and sales of recreational marijuana when it was approved statewide by a ballot initiative in 2012, so he was, therefore, only representing the will of his constituency.

And, Ertel noted, he also has a “social disagreement” and “personal discomfort” with the sanctioned use of marijuana for other than medicinal reasons.

“I have no problem with that if a doctor thinks it’s [beneficial], but I do with recreational pot,” Ertel said, adding that some people who had attended the recent Bluegrass Festival in Telluride had described the widespread open use of marijuana at the event as “the most disgusting thing they’d seen in their lives.”

“I can’t be a party to this,” he said before the vote.

Suckla reminded the audience that Sheriff Dennis Spruell had said during the hearing that his office would need a full-time deputy at the cost of at least $80,000 annually to make sure state law is being followed, since Colorado has only two inspectors to cover the entire Western Slope.

“It would take growing a lot of marijuana [to pay] for that,” Suckla said, adding that he was in favor of growing industrial hemp as an agricultural crop.

Sheets said earlier in the hearing that even though 100 tons of legal pot were produced in Colorado last year, it will take 1,000 more grow sites to keep up with legitimate retail demand in the state as the industry grows.

“I’d like to be one of those farms,” he said. “I’m trying to make some money for myself and the county.”

Suckla had also commented that because Montezuma is one of only two counties in the state with no sales tax, it would not benefit financially from any retail pot shops even if they were permitted.

John Baxter, the commission’s attorney, explained that the county could still benefit financially from growing operations, since counties that permit marijuana farms are eligible for a portion of the 15-percent excise tax the state collects on those sales.

The commissioners’ decision also had supporters in the audience, including a resident of County Road G who said hundreds of pot plants are being grown in her subdivision by “commuters” from Durango, generating an odor so strong that her daughter, who has a medical condition that requires regular exercise, is unable to stay outdoors. “You go outside and that’s all you smell,” she said.

Spruell said this situation is the focus of an “ongoing investigation.”

Another woman who supported the ban said her chief concern was that the patients she works with who use medical marijuana aren’t viewed as “criminals.”

A woman who had previously supplied the commissioners with information about projected tax revenues from recreational pot asked them if they had done their “homework,” adding it would be “a lot of money to say ‘no’ to.” She said during recent visits to Ouray and Telluride she had not observed any people “dancing naked in the streets smoking – it was very subdued.”

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From July 2014.