Pubdate: Fri, 31 Oct 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Eric Goold, Writers on the Range
Note: Eric Goold is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column 
service of High Country News. He lives in Paonia, Colo.
Page: 4


A little-known battle in this country's marijuana war is underway in 
a small town of 1,500 in western Colorado, known (if at all) for its 
underground coal mines, 12 wineries, a microbrewery, organic 
vegetables and fruit - and its perfect climate for growing pot.

The town is Paonia and, this November, its registered voters will 
decide whether to allow the sale of pot for recreational use. Looking 
back at the history of this town, nestled at the base of 11,400-foot 
Mount Lamborn on the North Fork of the Gunnison River, it is clear 
that the battle lines in today's culture war were drawn long ago.

A hippie invasion in the early 1970s and then another following the 
Rainbow Gathering held at nearby Overland Reservoir in 1992 brought 
in generations of pot farmers. The pot they've grown is known as 
Paonia Purple, Paonia Paralyzer or P-Bud. So many rural myths have 
risen describing the origin of this potent strain that no one around 
town knows for sure what it was originally called. But a story has it 
that Paonia Purple was written up in the pot periodical High Times 
and that it once won the coveted Cannabis Cup.

These factors, plus a 60-40 vote within Paonia approving Amendment 64 
in 2012, make it seem like pot shops in Paonia are a matter of 
manifest destiny. But not so fast. There's another side to the 
history of this small town just a mile off a state highway. Paonia 
was colonized decades ago by fervent Christians and the scions of all 
of those churchgoing, often former military, God-fearing Christians 
have lined up to oppose retail marijuana.

Black-and-red lawn signs all around town say "Vote No to Marijuana 
Establishments. Protect Paonia and the Kids." Former Paonia Mayor Ron 
Rowell is one of the architects of this grassroots effort against 
retail marijuana and he's the perfect person to ask about the signs: 
Rowell and his wife, Deb, created and distributed them.

Protect Paonia and the kids from what? "Changing of the morals and 
values within our community," Rowell says.

Is your opposition based primarily on fear? "No. It's based on 
morals," Rowell says. "General Christian kind of morals, plus it is 
the way this town has been for the last 50 years. We protect our 
kids, we're heavily influenced by a Christian base and we would like 
to see it stay that way."

Actually, it's been that way in Paonia for a lot longer than 50 
years. On Nov. 20, 1924, the first story about marijuana was printed 
in the local newspaper, the Paonian: "Marijuana, the 'Indian Hemp' 
weed which flourishes in Colorado, has made its appearance in the 
Paonia district. ... The danger from marijuana lies not in the fact 
that it is at all pleasing to the smoker, but in its insidiousness, 
in the fact that young fools can acquire a terrible habit without any 
great fears of detection. ... ."

Ninety years after the Paonian editorialized that marijuana makes 
young fools acquire terrible habits, Rowell's signs around town 
predict even worse if the kids aren't protected.

When I was elected as a trustee of the town of Paonia in April 2012, 
never in my wildest imagination did I think this would be the biggest 
issue during my tenure. I voted for Amendment 64 because I don't 
think I should go to jail if I have an ounce of pot in my pocket and 
because my vote made a statement against the failed war on drugs that 
defined American culture for most of my life.

The amendment also allows for municipalities to collect taxes from 
the sale of retail marijuana and that's where voters have very real 
problems. Even when small towns are dying around the West from lack 
of jobs and weak retail businesses, some Paonia residents are loath 
to collect money from a plant that the federal government still 
declares to be illegal. And there are the children to protect.

I see valid arguments on both sides, so I'm sitting on a very sharp 
fence. I won't decide my vote until I'm looking at the ballot. And 
unlike four of my fellow trustees, whose yards are filled with signs 
expressing their views, I don't feel like it's my job or my duty to 
tell people how to vote.

This debate over retail sales of pot embodies the conflict between a 
town's heritage and modern times. On Nov. 5, regardless of the 
outcome of the election, I doubt that this conflict will be settled. 
Meanwhile, yard signs are blooming - just like Paonia Paralyzer.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom