Pubdate: Sat, 29 Oct 2016
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2016 The Pueblo Chieftain


The legalization of retail marijuana stores two years ago has had
profound impacts on the city and county of Pueblo. Some good. Some

Now, the time has come for Pueblo voters to decide whether the
benefits outweigh the negatives.

For months, The Pueblo Chieftain has been intensely studying this
issue, both with special and ongoing news reporting, and also with
private editorial board discussions with those for and against retail
marijuana stores and grow operations.

It is an understatement to say the issue is complicated. So bear with
us as we try today to discuss the essential concerns.

On the positive side, retail marijuana in Pueblo County -- not in the
city, where a moratorium on retail sales has been in place since
legalization in 2014 -- has meant jobs. The figure of 1,300 new jobs
has been tossed about, but frankly, we've been unable to pin down the
exact number.

The jobs range from cultivation workers to retail management. Some of
the jobs pay fairly well, but others pay relatively low wages. There
are many part-time workers in the field.

Tax revenues have benefited the county, with the total for 2016
expected to be somewhere in the $2.5 million range. Those proceeds
have been used for a variety of purposes such as road paving in Pueblo
West and scholarships for local students. And the revenues have risen
in each of the years retail marijuana has been sold here.

There have been secondary benefits such as to the construction
industry, which has remodeled buildings and built new stores,
greenhouses and other structures. A number of vacant warehouse-type
buildings have been purchased and put to use by marijuana retailers
and related businesses.

That all adds up to a significant impact in terms of primary and
secondary jobs, and increased revenue for local county government.

The City Council, on the other hand, put a moratorium on retail
stores, but is asking voters this year to approve Ballot Question 2B
to allow retail operations within the city limits.

If that were to pass, there is no doubt that the city would see
benefits similar to what the county has experienced.

There also are the arguments that center around health, with
proponents praising marijuana for helping treat all sorts of
conditions, perhaps most visibly post-traumatic stress disorder,
especially among military veterans.

Opponents argue that more testing is needed before such claims can be
verified, and they point to medical studies that clearly establish the
negative effects of marijuana on adolescents and young adults as their
brains still are developing. They say it's indisputable that marijuana
impedes brain development.

The arguments over health claims cannot be resolved here, or anywhere
for that matter. Passion runs high on both sides and there are
conflicting test results.

Besides, we feel the time to make those arguments should have been in

No, we feel we must put the focus today on the benefits and negatives
to the community, not the individuals. Sure, the latter is a valid
debate topic, but for the sake of today's conversation, let's set that
one aside for a different time.

So far, we've discussed the benefits, and there is no doubt that they
are significant.

The negative impacts likewise are significant.

Local experts in law enforcement and nonprofits, particularly those
who work with the homeless such as Posada, estimate that some 2,500
additional homeless people -- added to an estimated 1,700 homeless
here before retail marijuana was legalized -- have come to Pueblo to
buy and use marijuana. Maybe they came here with a dream to work in
the industry, but that hasn't materialized for most of them.

You see them everywhere, young people on street corners with their
backpacks and their dogs, holding signs asking people for money. "Need
money for gas," "Need money for food" the signs read, but the reality
is that they want money so they can go into a retail marijuana store,
buy product and get stoned.

It is almost impossible to go into a grocery store or big box store
parking lot and not be confronted by these individuals. And many are

Where do they live? In tents along the Fountain Creek and Arkansas
River, in cars parked on the edges of big parking lots, camping out
wherever they can find shelter.

Emergency rooms at our local hospitals are beset by these individuals.
Doctors and staff tell of heartbreaking stories of young families with
malnourished children who are putting those youths through hell so the
parents can smoke marijuana.

Ominously, doctors also tell about other individuals they see in the
ERs, people who suffer from brain disorders such as schizophrenia who
have stopped taking their medications and have come to Pueblo for
marijuana. Never mind that marijuana doesn't successfully treat
schizophrenia, a potentially dangerous disorder if, for example, it
manifests itself as paranoid schizophrenia. No, these ill people have
come to Pueblo for marijuana, thinking incorrectly that they can
substitute their pharmaceuticals for pot, and our local ERs and their
staffs have to deal with this every day.

These homeless who have come into our community have brought nothing
but trouble with them. Yet our community is straining to provide them
resources, resources that had been dedicated to Puebloans in need.

But of all of the negative impacts on our community, the worst is the
impact of image.

One county commissioner predicted early on -- and astoundingly, he
thought this was a good thing -- that Pueblo is on the way to becoming
the "Napa Valley of marijuana."

That may be the case if the retail industry -- especially grow
operations -- continues to expand at the exponential rate we've seen
since 2014.

However, we think it's a negative for our community to be regarded as
a center for a drug culture. There's no doubt, local economic
development people say, that our community already is known nationwide
for marijuana. And that means, they continue, that many businesses
considering relocating to Pueblo or opening a new business here want
no part of a community that worships marijuana.

Likewise, existing businesses have struggled to hire employees who can
pass drug tests. And those who are required by law to maintain a
drug-free work environment have struggled to meet that standard
because of drug or alcohol use. Business leaders note they have seen a
dramatic worsening of these issues since recreational marijuana was
legalized in 2014.

There have been crime issues. Sophisticated drug operations based in
Florida, with Cuban ties, have set up marijuana grow operations, most
notably in Pueblo West. And there has been an increase in thefts since
marijuana has been available in stores, with opponents of marijuana
saying the explanation for the increase is simple: Users, especially
those not working and homeless, need money for marijuana.

A group of citizens calling themselves Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo
circulated petitions and have placed two issues on this fall's
election ballot. Issues 300 and 200 would ban retail marijuana
establishments in the city and county, respectively, and existing
stores would have until Oct. 31, 2017, to close.

The group acknowledges that there have been financial benefits and
some jobs created. But they argue that Pueblo has made a deal with the
devil and they ask a simple question, "Is this really what we want,
for Pueblo to be synonymous with marijuana?"

We have the same concern. Has Pueblo sold its soul for a few million
dollars in revenue and jobs, the majority of which are relatively
low-paying? Do we want our warehouses full of marijuana grows and/or
related products?

Do we want to be hassled by someone on every major street corner, or
when we go to restaurants and go shopping? Do we want our community
overrun by outsiders who offer us nothing except grief and who deplete
the resources of our nonprofits, which struggle just to meet
Puebloans' many needs?

In short, while some benefits are real, the costs have been too

It's time to say we have tried this social experiment, tried allowing
retail marijuana stores in Pueblo, and we don't want it anymore.

We urge you to vote yes on County Ballot Question 200 and City Ballot
Question 300, and vote no on City Ballot Question 2B (which would
allow retail stores within the city limits, as there are none currently).

We know this won't get rid of marijuana in Pueblo, as medical
marijuana was approved years ago by state voters. However, the process
to get a medical marijuana card has become significantly more
difficult in recent years, and we encourage the state Legislature to
make it even tougher.

And while lawmakers are at it, raise the age to 21 from 18 for those
eligible for a medical marijuana card. Also, eliminate the entire
caregivers system. If marijuana is really a medication, then grow it
in a controlled, government-regulated and government-tested facility,
with complete product standards -- as opposed to being grown in
someone's garage.

The notion of a person growing a drug for another is ludicrous. We
demand that the Legislature put an end to this nonsense.

Those who truly need marijuana will still be able to get it. And, we
realize, those who want it for recreational use can drive elsewhere in
the state to purchase it.

But we are convinced that this is not the image of Pueblo that our
community wants to project. We are better than this.

We made a mistake in even going this far, but frankly, that was in
large part thanks to our county commissioners, who shoved retail
marijuana operations down the throats of communities such as Pueblo
West and the St. Charles Mesa, where there was and is significant 

Then the commissioners set up a buffer, a bogus marijuana licensing
board made up of the usual suspects to rubber-stamp applications and
protect the commissioners from those objecting.

Very well. We have the opportunity now to admit our

Vote yes on 200 and 300; and no on City Ballot Question 2B.
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MAP posted-by: Matt