Chamber has lost its way with pot position

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I don’t attend a lot of events in my official capacity as city councilman. I hope most of the hosts don’t take it personally. Not an evening or morning or lunch hour would be free if I made it a habit. And the dry cleaning bills would gobble up my fat council paycheck.

I probably should make an exception for the mayor’s State of the City address on June 30, hosted by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. But as the Business Journal’s John Hazlehurst first reported, I’m boycotting the event, to protest the chamber’s backward, close-minded, blindly-discriminatory treatment of medical marijuana businesses in town. I think it sets a bad precedent for the “voice of business” to treat some businesses as less-equal, less-reputable, less acceptable than others — for the chamber to be treating these businesses (and by extension their patrons) like second-class citizens. We have created enough pariah industries and businesses in the United States without adding new ones. These are attitudes the chamber should be fighting, not fomenting.

I’m glad the chamber backed away a bit from its initial hard line stance. It reportedly won’t be joining with those who want to put a dispensary ban on the November ballot. But its flirtation with disaster — and it would have been disastrous for the chamber to take such a blatantly anti-business position — raises questions about who is in charge, what kind of advice it’s getting and whether it has lost its way.

As a private organization, the chamber is free to take whatever position it likes. I just think this one is wrongheaded and short-sighted.

Most involved in this emerging new economy are daring entrepreneurs running straight operations, which pay taxes, fill vacant space, serve as an engine for the local economy and provide a constitutionally-sanctioned service to people who believe it helps them. The novelty of what they do makes some folks nervous. But they have a right to exist. They would seem like just the sort of small businesspeople the leading local business organization would be eager to learn about, court and assist. Yet the chamber seems to want the city to roll up the welcome mat.

The city has been in the process of drafting and approving medical marijuana rules and regulations for seven or eight months now, in order to try and get a handle on a new and chaotic situation. A task force drafted a comprehensive ordinance, in open meetings to which all (including the chamber) were invited. The draft was handed off to the city, which was working through its process when legislators approved House Bill 1284 — a typically-botched political “fix” that creates more problems than it solves. It added new wrinkles to the laundry by declaring dispensaries legitimate and constitutional, while also — in contradictory fashion — giving local governments the right to ban them through ballot measures.

Whether one group can vote away another group’s constitutional rights is doubtful. Therefore, the so-called “local option” is almost certain to be tangled up in court for years to come. That raises questions about whether a voter-approved dispensary ban, even if it passes, will ever be enforced. That path will only prolong the uncertainty, the anxiety and the tension this situation creates for these businesses, for their patients and for the general public. A better way is for the city to move forward with an ordinance-writing process in which all will be heard.

A majority on this council has consistently — and courageously, in my view — supported moving forward with local rules and regulations. We’ve declined to be sidetracked by a few anti-MMJ reactionaries. We were thus completely blindsided when the chamber, which has not been heard from, publicly or privately, in all these months, showed up to inform us that we were rushing forward too quickly on local regulations and that the dispensary question needed to go back to voters.

This one-man boycott is my small way of registering displeasure at the way the chamber handled this, but I don’t think any hard feelings will last. The chamber will have no stronger ally than me when it wants to get back to the work of creating local businesses, not destroying them. But it seems for the moment to have lost its way.

Paige is a Colorado Springs councilmember.

5 Responses to Chamber has lost its way with pot position

  1. By Federal Regulation, MMDs are not recognized as ‘legal’ businesses. Why is this issue of allowing dispensaries even being discussed at a state/local level? What happened to the days of getting ‘medicine’ from a pharmacist, who has served their time in school to be trained in the field in which they are providing services for? I am not against the use of Marijuana for ‘approved’ legitimate medical purposes, however, applying for a license with minimal prerequisite, opening shop in a strip mall, and supplying it is A LOT different than going to a pharmacy and speaking to an expert who has had 12+ years of education.

    Sean: Don’t you have more important things you can focus on for our City? Like, the budget.

    June 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm

  2. Federal and state law have been in conflict on the issue since medical marijuana use was approved by voters, and written into the state Constitution, in 2000. As a proponent of states’ rights, I believe Colorado should have the right to go its own way on this issue — as more than a dozen other states have.

    Until federal laws are changed, and marijuana’s status as a schedule 1 drug is removed, selling it from a pharmacy isn’t possible. That day will come, perhaps. But it can’t happen now. The best we can achieve for now, in terms of quality control, is that the buyer and seller know eachother and both are operating openly, and accountably, which is a vast improvement over the black market, where there is no quality control and the Mexican drug cartels pocket all the proceeds.

    The idea that every FDA-approved drug prescribed by a doctor and filled by an experienced pharmacist is absolutely safe, and not subject to abuse or misuse by those so inclined, is ludicrous, given the epidemic of prescription drug problems we see in the country. I’ve yet to read about an overdose caused by legally-purchased medical marijuana in Colorado. Can the same be said for drugs bought over the counter at Walgreens?

    Being a councilperson requires that one focus on numerous things at once, CitizenX; that’s what I’m doing. Medical marijuana-related economic activity actually is helping with the city’s budget problems, in case you haven’t been paying attention; it’s partially credited with a recent surge in sales tax revenues, which will lessen the pain in the next round of budget cuts. If we let reason be our guide and do this right, by locally regulating and taxing an activity that is protected by the state Constitution, we can see benefits for the local economy and the city’s bottom line, while respecting the rights of patients.

    Sean Paige
    June 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm

  3. Sean:
    Our elected, err… appointed, city leaders primary focus should be geared towards the long-term safety concerns from our community regarding the state/community legalization of MMDs vs. the beneficial “surge in sales tax revenues” it will produce as you state. This is simply narrow-minded.

    The US Drug Enforcement Administration has stated that many MMDs “are nothing more than drug trafficking organizations bringing criminal activities to our neighborhoods and drugs near our children and schools.” I have not heard anything from you stating your position on drafting ordinances, laws, MMD monitoring, and acceptable easements to protect our community – only comments on generating sales at in order to help city budget problems.

    Your solution to the well-being of patients of MMDs, as stated in your comment, “that the buyer and seller know eachother and both are operating openly” is also ludicrous and unreasonable. You neglected to leave out the statistic on the high number of felonies/misdemeanors that MMD shop owners have. Do you suggest a ‘buyer’ should request a Background Check prior to the sale?

    Since your primary focus appears to be solely on generating “sales tax”, rather than safety concerns regarding our children and neighborhoods, then perhaps your next ambitious plot should also be to legalize brothels, as some areas of Nevada has done. Maybe that’s why their city lights are still on, right?

    June 30, 2010 at 10:01 am

  4. The narrow-mind is obviously yours, CitizenX. You seem to have been spoon fed myths and misconceptions by DA Dan May or CONO’s Dave Munger.

    There is no crime problem associated with MMJ, as you imply. I have repeatedly asked the police chief and DA for hard statistical evidence of that, and it’s less-than-alarming, relative to other crime threats. MMJ providers and sellers can attract criminals, obviously – just like banks, liquor stores and Subway shops. But if we began shutting down every business that’s a potential draw for criminals, based on hard crime data, MMJ dispensaries would be far down the list. These are secure facilities, not accessible to the general public, which have security cameras and other monitoring equipment in place to deter crime and protect the privacy and safety of patients and employees.

    The illegality of non-medical marijuana is a much bigger generator of crime, as anyone with any common sense knows. School yards and school friends are where Colorado Springs kids get their drugs, not legal, locked-down MMJ shops. Parents who make villains of MMJ shops are overlooking threats much closer to home, starting in their own medicine cabinets. The black tar heroin ring discovered at Cheyenne Mountain High School a few years ago, and the drug networks not uncovered that keep local high schoolers high, have nothing to do with MMJ. But I guess it’s easier for local law enforcers and anxious parents to pick on MMJ patients than to root out the real source of the problem.

    I’m not aware of one MMJ provider that has been busted by the DEA as a “front” in Colorado. Mexican drug cartels don’t need fronts, given the ease with which they are operating already (including in Colorado Springs schools). Why would they want to pay taxes and subject themselves to regulation and public scrutiny, as MMJ shops do, if they don’t have to? Partial legalization is cutting into drug cartel profits, as numerous reports have indicated. The DEA, like any self-serving bureaucracy, wants to keep the drug war going (even though it is a demonstrated failure) because it keeps DEA budgets fat. They think everything will unravel if they concede that marijuana might have some beneficial value. But a little independent research, and independent thinking, will lead you to alternative interpretations.

    I don’t know whether it helps people, scientifically, any more than I know whether the copper bracelet by grandma wore to fight arthritis worked. But I’m not arrogant enough to try and pre-empt that personal and private choice, if this right is written into the state constitution. I’m not sure why so many non-patients care so much: Are you as judgmental about the prescription pills all your friends are popping? I believe in personal freedom — including the freedom to medicate oneself with MMJ, if that is legal. I trust people to decide for themselves. I know this complicates the messages we send our children. As a step-parent, I understand those concerns. But freedom creates a lot of uncomfortable situations. And people can’t be denied their rights just because exercising those rights makes other people uncomfortable.

    I do want to keep MMJ out of neighborhoods. But the best way to ensure that it stays in neighborhoods, and stays underground, is to shut down openly-operating strip mall dispensaries. At least we know where these dispensaries and grow operations are. They can be monitored, regulated, taxed — and shut down if they fail to operate on the up-and-up. Shut them down with a ban and where do you think this activity will go? It will go into your neighborhoods. How will that improve public safety?

    Live in denial if you choose, but it’s a legal activity, approved by voters and written into the Constitution. If you don’t approve, amend the Constitution. Until that happens, if it happens, it’s an issue we need to deal with, hopefully in a rational and constructive way, which means getting educated about the issue, rather than trading in misinformation and myth. Take the second path if you like, CitizenX, but I think most people in Colorado Springs want to move forward, not live in the past.

    Sean Paige
    July 1, 2010 at 11:25 am

  5. CitizenX, Part of the legislation is going to require that MMJ shop owners go thru a criminal background check. From what I understand, if you have a felony you are excluded from ownership. That is one safeguard against the criminal element. My good friend runs a dispensary. He has no criminal background, is VERY educated and knows a TON about growing marijuana safely, securely, and WILL NOT charge people exorbitantly for the product. IN fact, the doctor he uses for referrals WILL NOT accept money and actually turns people away if they go to him with a “hangnail” as their reason. There are plenty of law-abiding people that can be part of this industry and WANT to be compliant with the regs. Now you have banks that are discriminating against MMJ because of their “reputations”. they claim is it because of Federal regs regarding marijuana but the fact the article mentioned twice the “reputation” card we can easily figure out why they won’t do business with MMJ disp.
    I have witnessed his patients coming in, some in wheelchairs, buying the product they need and then thanking him for pricing the product so it’s affordable. When Sean Paige talks about the revenue side of this industry WHY shouldn’t he. he as well as thousands of others know this is another viable revenue stream.
    Anti-mmj activists say these shops should be shut down. Well, as Sean pointed out, then you risk the criminal element controlling it all again. You risk kids getting it from dealers on the streets where dispensaries do not even allow somebody thru the door without their card. You also risk all of that income going right into the pockets of the criminals. No taxes paid, no jobs created. Just pure profit that NOBODY benefits from.

    The last point Sean Paige talks about is the Constitution. He is right. We had a majority vote that wrote it into the Constitution. What needs to happen is we need to try and follow the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method in regulating. Apply the stipulations to open up a shop (without the tens of thousands of dollars to open up), keep the criminal element away, tax it FAIRLY and make sure the dispensaries are on the up and up. It doesn’t need to be so complicated but when you have as many cooks in the kitchen adding their two cents what starts out as simple ends up being a menagerie. This doesn’t have to be hard. People make it hard.

    July 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm