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By Conor Hooley, with assistance from Erik Myers
The future of Fort Collins’ medical marijuana centers (MMCs) is firmly in the hands of its citizens. On November 1, a special election held in conjunction with the Larimer County General Election will give Fort Collins residents the opportunity to cast their vote and decide whether or not to prohibit medical marijuana centers, cultivation operations and infused product manufacturing from operating within city limits.
The issue of MMCs operating in Fort Collins has been controversial and divisive ever since they were given the go-ahead in 2009. And yet despite the heated, ongoing debate regarding MMCs, their proponents and detractors at least agree on one thing – that the citizens of Fort Collins need to voice their opinions on this issue.
“We’re trying to make people aware that they need to be registered to vote,” said Steve Ackerman, president of the Fort Collins Medical Cannabis Association (FCMCA) and owner of local MMC Organic Alternatives. Ackerman has been one of the most prominent and vocal advocates for medical marijuana (MMJ) in Fort Collins, and has spearheaded a campaign of “education and awareness” aimed towards keeping MMCs’ doors open long past the November election.
Of course, MMC opponents have been equally adamant in regards to the public voicing its opinion. In fact, that notion has served as the framework for this most recent anti-MMC movement.
“We want to let the people voice their opinion,” said former mayor Ray Martinez, who has staunchly opposed MMCs, from leading the petition to prohibit them to actively posting an array of anti-MMJ information on numerous locally-based online discussion forums.
“If [Fort Collins’] citizens want to keep [MMCs], that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine too. But at least their voice will be heard.”
“Voice” will operate in a strictly figurative sense, however, as the 2011 elections will be held exclusively through mail balloting. Ballots will be mailed to active voters beginning on October 11. In order to receive a ballot, voters must be registered with the city by October 3 (which can be done online at govotecolorado.com). Unregistered citizens who miss the deadline still have the option of filling out a provisional ballot, but the chances of their votes being counted is far from guaranteed.
The special election will appear on the ballot as “Question 300,” giving citizens the option of voting for or against prohibition. In other words, a “for” vote will count toward the ban, while an “against” vote will be in favor of MMCs remaining open.
The vote will serve as the culmination of a saga that has endured for the better part of the calendar year; one that began with the introduction of a citizen-initiated petition to ban MMCs back in May. The petitioners’ – spearheaded by the likes of Martinez and Larimer County sheriff Justin Smith – stated goal was to allow the people of Fort Collins to decide on whether or not to allow MMCs to exist within the city. Martinez and Smith both alleged a severe disconnect between the actions of City Council and the interests of the public regarding MMCs since they arrived in Fort Collins.
The petition proved successful, amassing an impressive total of 7,503 signatures – 3,000 more than the amount required to bring the issue before City Council on August 16. Council was then given two options: to send the proposed measure to a vote in the November 1 elections, or to enact the proposed ban immediately.
Predictably, the August 16 meeting was well attended and hotly contested, with large numbers of advocates and opponents alike. Citizens voiced their opinions and anecdotes regarding MMCs and medical marijuana in general in an impassioned session that lasted for more than five hours. At the evening’s conclusion, Council ultimately opted to place the ordinance on the November 1 ballot.
It would be a gross understatement to say that the issues and interests surrounding the future of Fort Collins’ MMCs are extensive and varied. From drug legalization to job creation, civic image to clinical need, “new” black markets and conventional ones; the issue has covered, if not helped create, a complex terrain of local issues, both social and economic. The rights of MMJ patients, particularly regarding the ability to access their preferred medication, has been at the forefront of the ongoing debate.
“The ban will basically impede MMJ patients who have legitimate needs and serious medical conditions from receiving medication, forcing them to leave the community in order to obtain MMJ,” noted Ackerman.
Ackerman believes this would not only make their lives harder, but also substantially bolster marijuana’s black market.
Ackerman reports that over 8,500 Larimer County citizens are licensed MMJ patients, and estimates that over 200,000 MMJ transactions take place each year in local centers. He believes a ban would not reduce that commerce at all, but simply funnel the business elsewhere. Presumably to illegal and/or unsafe channels.
“If we ban these businesses, medical marijuana sales will be pushed into our neighborhoods, where they will be unlicensed, unregulated, unsecured, and untaxed. [The ban will also] increase the risk of illegal sales, fires, and home invasions,” he said.
Another substantial argument for the continued existence of MMCs is a financial one. In no uncertain terms, Fort Collins’ 20 MMCs have turned into a cash cow for the city, generating $440,289 in taxes from January 2010 to June 2011, according to the Northern Colorado Business Report. In addition to revenue losses, 186 jobs would also be lost if the ban is voted through.
Ackerman also spoke out against prominent political figures working to ban MMCs, claiming unscrupulous political motives on their behalf.
“I want people to understand that there are people in this town who are trying to move ahead their political agenda, and who are doing it at the expense of patients in need of this medicine,” he said.
Even in the most objective, non-partisan terms, it is fair to say that ban advocates have resorted to curious – and arguably suspect – methods of advancing their cause. For instance, Jean-Arlene Troxell, one of the original petitioners alongside Martinez and Smith and the wife of city congressman Wade Troxell, attempted to fraudulently sign the initiative petition with her maiden name – an attempt to veil the fact that she is married to a City Council member and local congressman. She was ultimately forced to re-sign it with her actual legal name.
But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to Smith, who has been an unrelenting source of spurious and unsubstantiated claims from the get-go. Notably, Smith has alleged that the city experienced virtually no problem with marijuana-related crime before 2009, and that since MMCs have opened crime has risen anywhere between 20 and 30 percent. His math completely contradicts official reports from Fort Collins Chief of Police Jerry Schiager, who announced earlier in the year that MMCs have caused no increase in drug-related crime.
Regardless of what you may believe or may have heard regarding MMCs in Fort Collins, Scene would like to strongly encourage all our readers to exercise their right to vote this month, and to fill out their ballots from an informed position – whatever that may be.
Everything You Need to Know to Vote in the Election
• Voters must be registered by October 3 to receive a ballot.
• Ballots will be mailed out on October 11.
• Ballots must be turned in by 7pm on November 1 to be counted.
• Issue will appear on the ballot as “Question 300.”
• Option to vote “for” or “against” prohibition.
• Vote for = MMCs go.
• Vote against = MMCs stay.
• Not registered? Head over to govotecolorado.com. (Online registration requires a Colorado driver’s license or ID card.)
• To find out more about registering to vote, submitting ballots, alternativ ways of voting and other frequently asked questions, visit co.larimer.co.us/elections.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Statistics, as of July 31, 2011
(More here: cdphe.state.co.us/hs/medicalmarijuana/statistics.html)
• There are currently 127,816 medical marijuana patients in the state of Colorado.
• There are currently 8,204 MMJ patients registered in Larimer County.
• The average age of a Colorado MMJ patient: 41.
• 66% of patients have a designated primary caregiver.
State Laws Dictating Medical Marijuana Centers
• MMCs must grow 75% of the medical marijuana they sell.
• Center owners must purchase and install 24-hour surveillance cameras installed in the shop and in grow locations; law enforcement must receive live streaming video.
• Center owners must file for licenses with the state’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, providing substantial background information. Citizens who have been convicted of an illegal drug possession or sale offense, or have a felony conviction, are not permitted to own a license.
• Non-Colorado citizens are not permitted to own a license.
• Center owners must file for sales tax license with the City of Fort Collins.
• License applicants must be in good financial standing with the state, having been fully paid up with business or personal taxes, as well as child support payments and student loans.
• Patients must show license before entering the store.
• A current Fort Collins ordinance requires MMCs to stay 1,000 feet from schools and other marijuana businesses and 500 feet from colleges, parks and places of worship.
• Interesting note: Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division just installed a new division office in Fort Collins; approximately a $1,000,000 investment.