Opinion: Mesa County values persecution more than people & profits
In the 15 years I’ve lived in Grand Junction, it’s been rare to feel like my elected officials represent the interests of my family or me. The disconnect between voters and Western Slope politicians becomes especially evident when one heads over the mountains and explores the city of Denver.
The revitalization of Denver’s downtown area was just beginning when I moved to Grand Junction. There were graffiti-covered and abandoned buildings everywhere. The downtown area was not a safe or comfortable place to be.
Now a virtual ghost town has become a self-contained middle class and upscale community full of wondrous shops, galleries, and museums. Colfax Avenue, usually my favorite place to observe pimps and drug dealers, now boasts a Whole Foods grocery store in the heart of an area I never would have walked at night.
Amid all the construction activity and hustle and bustle of a thriving community are numerous marijuana dispensaries. It’s clear that the economy is booming, especially the tourism industry, and that the legalization of marijuana is playing an important role.
Curious about the marijuana shops, I explored two in downtown Denver. I was looking forward to questioning the owners about their experiences with sales and customers. In no time at all, I realized just how ridiculous my plan was. It was like I’d set out to interview sales clerks on Black Friday.
There was a lot of hoopla when the nation’s first legal recreational marijuana sales began Jan. 1, bringing in $5 million in the first few days. I don’t think anyone thought that could be sustainable, especially with marijuana selling in shops for double the black market price. Estimates were for annual retail sales of $600 million and tax revenue of $70 million.
Two months into legal sales, there is little sign of diminishing demand. When the out-of-town ski crowd returned to the city for the night, I saw one line in which people were crammed into a store, up a flight of stairs and outside along the sidewalk.
I saw no sign of the drug addiction and debauchery Sheriff candidate Senator Steve King believes is imminent with legal sales. Instead, I saw a lot of well-dressed, professional sorts, ready to blow a lot of money playing in Colorado.
King would likely label them drug fiends and future meth addicts. Really, they were just a bunch of regular people with money burning holes in their pockets, who would go about their lives just as well as ever the next day.
MEANWHILE IN MESA COUNTY …
As I previously mentioned, a very sick and medically fragile friend of mine, Brenda Maggio, had an encounter with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department last December in which she was assaulted in her home, her medical marijuana confiscated, and she and her son left facing jail time.
I’m sitting in the pretrial hearing of Brenda and her son as I write this column today. They are charged with possession of marijuana and intent to distribute. It breaks my heart to listen to the prosecution’s arguments and to realize how little understanding law enforcement has of Colorado’s marijuana regulations and of the needs of medical marijuana patients.
It’s clear that the District Attorney is accustomed to steamrolling his way through drug cases, persecuting anyone he chooses with the assumption that those accused will be unable to afford legal representation. His representatives were clearly flustered by the fact that Brenda’s lawyer works for the NORML, a national organization committed to rational drug policies. The lack of evidence and facts behind Brenda’s prosecution was quite apparent today.
Brenda is so sick that, had she not been allowed to participate in proceedings over the telephone, she would have come to court wearing a surgical mask and lying on a stretcher. She is not a drug dealer, and there is no evidence that she is.
It’s time for elected officials such as sheriff wannabe Steve King and District Attorney Pete Hautzinger to stop wasting tax dollars and ruining lives. They should accept the will of the people and allow Mesa County to reap the rewards of Colorado’s legal marijuana industry.
A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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