Medical marijuana’s influence on youth talked over at Glenwood Springs City Council
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A new ordinance spelling out licensing procedures for medical marijuana dispensaries, commercial growing operations and other related businesses is the latest in the city’s attempt to regulate the industry locally.
The measure closely mirrors the rules and regulations spelled out in the state of Colorado’s licensing requirements. The ordinance was adopted Aug. 18 by Glenwood Springs City Council on a 5-1 vote.
But the latest move by the city to permit and regulate medical marijuana businesses didn’t come without some questions about the message the permissive environment is sending to young people in the community.
“It’s not just a medical marijuana issue in this town,” said Mary Rippy, a local teacher and longtime board member for the YouthZone organization, which provides programs for at-risk youth.
“This is becoming an issue of recreational use of marijuana, and it is impacting our kids,” she said.
Rippy asked that council postpone action on the ordinance until a broader community forum on the subject can be convened. She said the Glenwood Springs Chamber is currently organizing such a discussion, which is intended to bring the varying opinions around the issue to the table.
“YouthZone’s stance is that any kind of marijuana use is bad, and medical marijuana is making it easier for kids to get their hands on it,” she said.
Use of medical marijuana by persons with qualifying medical conditions was legalized in 2000 when state voters approved Amendment 20. It wasn’t until 2009 that commercial dispensaries started cropping up across Colorado, prompting the state and local jurisdictions to begin crafting regulations to control the industry. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, however.
“When Amendment 20 was voted in 2000, I’d have to say I was a little ambivalent about it. In fact, probably voted for the amendment,” said council member Mike Gamba.
“All I know is that, today, what is happening with medical marijuana is a farce, and there is recreational use happening as a result,” said Gamba, who voted against the ordinance in favor of waiting for a broader discussion of the issue.
Other councilors disagreed, and said the licensing ordinance and a companion zoning ordinance adopted earlier this year are aimed at putting the necessary controls in place to keep medical marijuana out of the hands of those who aren’t authorized to have it.
“By doing nothing, and by not approving this, we’re only making the problem worse,” Councilman Todd Leahy said.
Added Councilman Leo McKinney, “The people of the state passed the medical marijuana law, and for us to usurp that is asinine. This is a way to make it a better situation.”
There is evidence that medical marijuana sold to authorized patients is sometimes being re-dispensed to those who aren’t authorized to possess marijuana, Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said at the Aug. 18 meeting.
“Over the last couple of years, it’s been almost rare that we deal with someone 15 or older who doesn’t have marijuana on them,” Wilson said. “Frequently, we find that in medical marijuana packaging.”
In some cases, card-carrying patients and “caregivers,” those authorized by state law to possess and provide marijuana to patients, have been caught selling marijuana on the street, including to minors, he said.
Myles Rovig, who sits on the Roaring Fork School District board but said he was speaking on his own behalf, told council members that the number of school expulsions and suspensions related to marijuana distribution and possession on school property has increased in recent years.
“I believe the unintended consequences of medical marijuana have been borne out in the last couple of years,” he said.
However, one Glenwood Springs medical marijuana dispensary owner, Dan Sullivan of Green Medicine Wellness, said the combination of state and local regulations should ultimately provide the necessary safeguards.
“The same abuse that can happen with medical marijuana can happen with alcohol and prescription drugs,” Sullivan said. “That is a parent issue, and a school issue.
“The microscope is on us every which way,” he said. “And that’s absolutely the way it should be. If we don’t do it right, the state will take my license away.”
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