Growing Pains

About 50 supporters of MediMar Ministries and other area medical marijuana centers came to an informal meeting Wednesday night with several members of City Council, who said they wanted public comment on whether to let city voters decide whether to allow marijuana centers in Pueblo.

What they got were cheers for wanting to hear from the medical marijuana community, but also protests over the city’s decision on June 30 to issue a cease-and-desist order to MediMar, the only center that was openly operating in the city, despite a city moratorium on allowing or licensing such businesses.

Some of the loudest applause came when speakers said the city should repeal that cease-and-desist order. The problem is July 1 was a state deadline for marijuana centers currently in operation to demonstrate they had local government approval; otherwise they would be forced to shut down until a state license is available next year. Although MediMar had a business license, city officials have repeatedly argued that was granted before officials knew it was a marijuana center.

Monday night, council is going to consider an ordinance from Councilwoman Judy Weaver that would let city voters decide on Nov. 2 whether to allow marijuana centers in the city.

Councilman Steve Nawrocki organized Wednesday night’s meeting to hear from interested citizens on that subject and he was joined by Councilmen Leroy Garcia, Ray Aguilera and Chris Kaufman in listening to about 90 minutes of comments. Most of the speakers were people who acknowledged they either used and needed medical marijuana or were involved in operating a center.

Weaver also attended the meeting, sitting in the audience, but left early.

The public comments often echoed each other, with speakers insisting that Colorado voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, and the city’s delay in implementing a licensing process for marijuana centers was depriving patients of the medicine they need.

“Why do you want to vote on medical marijuana again? Do we get to vote on whether people can use (the painkiller) Vicodin?” a woman demanded.

Anita Montoya said she had a “drawer full of prescriptions” that hadn’t helped her medically, but marijuana did. “You’re taking away my ability to get medicine,” she said.

That clearly isn’t the intention of Garcia and Aguilera, who told the crowd that council doesn’t want to deny them access to medical marijuana. Garcia gave a slide show of local growers where the marijuana plants were stashed in closets and backrooms, clearly underground operations that were hazardous to operate.

Garcia’s point was that by licensing and regulating centers, the city would make the process of providing medical marijuana to state-approved people safer and easier to police.

“I like the idea of the city regulating and licensing centers,” he said. “The taxes, the licenses, would all help to legitimize these businesses.”

Nawrocki also emphasized that even if city voters approved a ban on marijuana centers, it would not affect the right of medical marijuana users to grow their own — as provided by the state constitutional amendment.

“Some people are confused. They think that banning centers in the city will ban medical marijuana. It won’t,” he said.

But numerous speakers urged the city to reopen MediMar. One woman said she manages a marijuana center in Pueblo County and said her business has been cleaned out by MediMar patients who can no longer get marijuana at a city center.

Karl Tameler, attorney for MediMar, said the city had accepted the $20,000 in sales tax receipts that MediMar had collected during the first four months of the year — which Tameler suggested was a form of local approval that could allow MediMar to be reopened under the new state law.

“I think you need to reconsider this cease-and-desist order and begin thinking about MediMar as something that is here to stay,” he said.

Not every speaker supported medical marijuana, however. One woman reminded council that several of the speakers represented marijuana centers and that profits were “the elephant in the room that no one is talking about.”

Kaufman also brought the conversation to a halt at the end of the meeting when he thanked everyone for their comments and that he didn’t question their intentions. But then he added that a teen-aged son had just been invited to a party recently “and that medical marijuana had been promised” to the partygoers.

Another ordinance on council’s agenda Monday night would ask voters whether to impose a 4.3 percent sales tax on medical marijuana and its paraphernalia. That idea wasn’t popular either Wednesday night.

“If your loved one needed a medicine to deal with a terminal illness, what would you think about someone wanting to ‘tax the heck out of it?’ ’’ a man asked, referring to comments from council members in support of higher taxes on marijuana.