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Town Council to vote on marijuana sale ban

Staff Writer

The Pagosa Springs Town Council held a work session last week to discuss with the town’s attorney the possibility of establishing regulations in preparation for issuing licenses to those interested in operating marijuana businesses in the town, but, by the end of the meeting, the tide had shifted and town staff was directed to bring an ordinance to the next regular meeting that would establish a permanent ban.

“I have made my feelings known before,” council member Don Volger said, “thinking that it wouldn’t be too detrimental to allow a few recreational or retail marijuana facilities within the town. I have had a lot of time to think about that, and we have had a lot of information come in on both sides. The bottom line is, no matter what decision this council makes, approximately half the people are going to support it and half the people are not.”

Volger went on to describe his law enforcement background. He also described a friend who struggled with serious marijuana addiction problems. While he does support giving access to those people who need marijuana for medical reasons and he does support the decriminalization of marijuana as far as its possession and use, he has changed his mind on allowing marijuana businesses to operate within the town’s limits.

“At this point in time,” Volger concluded, “even though I have stated before that I don’t see a problem with allowing one or two retail marijuana facilities in town, I’m sorry. When it comes right down to it, I think I am going to have to disappoint those who want to start a business here. Right now, I am going to say I support a prohibition.”

Council member Tracy Bunning explained his belief that those who voted for Amendment 64 — in Archuleta County 54 percent of the electorate said “Yes,” while 46 percent said “No” — only voted to decriminalize possession, and didn’t necessarily want to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their community.

“The fact that there were five or six different provisions to that ‘Yes’ vote made me think the opposite of what you thought,” council member David Schanzenbaker argued. “In order for someone to say ‘Yes’ to that ballot issue, they had to agree with all of those things.

“As far as decriminalization, it is legal to possess it right now, but if you don’t allow access for people to acquire it by a legal transaction, then you’re not decriminalizing it. How does a person who wants to possess it get it, if you don’t allow them to buy it? The people just voted in November to allow this, so that is the baseline I’m starting from. I want to hear a good reason for prohibition. The easy way out is to say, ‘They can buy it somewhere else.’”

While council member Clint Alley had to leave the work session early, as a parting thought he advocated keeping an open mind and continuing to do research on both options, not just prohibition.

“I have stated my position before,” Mayor Ross Aragon said. “I am for prohibition. One of the reasons is because I support law enforcement and the chief (Pagosa Springs Police Chief William Rockensock) is against it. I don’t know how in the world I could not support my chief.”

Council member Kathie Lattin argued for taking a wait-and-see approach, letting other communities allow retail operations and checking if they experience any problems in the future. Maybe at a later date the town could reexamine the issue.

“I think we can see where we are as far as the council is concerned,” Bunning added. “I would be interested in continuing the moratorium, perhaps until the end of December 2014, for a couple of reasons. I think it makes good sense just to allow some of this stuff to be finalized at the state level so we can look at it.

“Number two, we need time to get feedback from the constituents of the town of Pagosa Springs. I’m going to suggest people let us know what their thoughts are. By extending the moratorium to that point, I imagine we could get it on the ballot in November of 2014 and, if it passes, we would still have time to develop acceptable local regulations.”

Town attorney Bob Cole clarified that if the council allowed the issue to go to the voters, it would have to be at the general election in November of 2014, not at the town’s municipal election in April, and that it wouldn’t be possible to develop proper regulations until February 2015, if the voters insisted on allowing marijuana businesses to operate.

While this was a work session and no formal decisions were allowed, town manager David Mitchem promised to put the item on the agenda for the Sept. 3 regular town council meeting.

“Given the consensus of the council, town staff can prepare an appropriate document that will give the council several options: one, a permanent prohibition; two, a prohibition to a date certain; or three, a prohibition to a date certain plus an election.”

“I am not opposed to going to a vote of the people and letting them decide,” Volger said. “Demographics are changing. I recognize that, and we’re not going to be able to stem the tide. I recognize that as well. Maybe we are just delaying it for a while.”

“I just have to say this,” council member Darrel Cotton interjected. “I am opposed to taking it to the voters. The voters elected us to make the decisions. If we don’t have the cajones to step up and make the decisions — if we’re going to make them make the decisions — then all we need is someone to count the votes every time something comes up. If they don’t like what we do, then they will un-elect us.”

During the two-hour meeting, each member of the council expressed the idea that they must vote their conscience, and if the citizens didn’t approve of the decisions being made, they could always vote to replace the council members.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on August 29, 2013.
  • littledrummerboy

    this is totally unacceptable! these “community leaders” aren’t leading a damn thing. they are trying to go back in time and in the process are going against the will of the voters. i’m no expert in local politics, but it seems that people who are obstructing progress and in conflict with voters’ wishes should be summarily fired. darrel cotton actually had the nerve to say out loud that he is opposed to allowing voters to have a say in policy and that THEY know better than US. this nimrod needs to take a 6th grade civics class! also, i would be willing to bet $1000 that these obstructionists have well stocked liquor cabinets in their homes and don’t have a modicum of opposition to businesses in town that sell alcohol. i am appalled and embarrassed at this egregious lack of local leadership.

  • johnnygoldstar

    The federal government has just announced they won’t try to change Colorado’s new law. Regulate it and let people sell it since they will get it anyway if they want it.

  • Amber Vasquez

    This is unwarranted. Pagosa Springs council members are scared and uneducated in the changing laws. Mr. Volger is right there are two ways to go. One makes our town money, can help set and maintain reasonable laws not only for Pagosa but for the nation and will make history, the other shows the town misinformation and flat out denial of the people of Archuleta county who have already voted. Wake up.
    It’s now time for all Archuleta voters to stand up and be heard. Obviously our council members cant and wont stand up for our rights.
    I say it is time vote to replace these council members.

  • guest

    Can we hold a special election soon to get these ego driven old boys out of there and get some representatives who reflect the will of the people?

  • notAliberal

    The amount of money that is going to come into or not come into out tax system here is undeniably the most important issue at stake here. I would prefer paved roads, new parks for the children and many other amenities that can be created thanks to the Marijuana being taxed. As of right now in every other state in the country the drug cartels and large growers of this cash crop are not paying taxes to the states and cities that they are as we all know selling Marijuana in. As well as the fact that there is a very well regulated Medical system in place the Recreational facilities will also be strictly monitored, as to keep criminal behavior at a minimum.
    Please vote to allow taxes to enter our county.

  • Craig

    I’m glad the City Council of Pagosa Springs is taking a stance on the sales of marijuana in the county. The last thing I enjoy is seeing a bunch of pot heads hanging around stores smoking their weed. If the pot heads had their way, the next push for the legalization of cocaine and Meth. The pot heads/liberals always make the same argument, there’s no victim right??? Look next time who’s breaking into your house or stealing at the stores. But as you say, “it’s only marijuana.”

    • voter

      i think you’re thinking of the meth heads

    • concerned citizen

      I do not smoke marijuana, however I think you are confused. People have rights, people have voted, and its wrong for us as citizens to ignore the rights of others. I dont like people who wear there pants below there but and talk trashy and unkindly, but do I have a right to stop them? We live in a country based on rights and personal freedom. Why let your own opinions and distastes be more important than a democratic vote? Marijuana calms people, it doesnt push them to break and enter. Please do your research. Your ignorance is shocking. Once again, I do not smoke, I just believe that if we continue to override the democratic system, we will decline.

      • Craig

        I believe you drop the word “ignorance” to easy. I am not ignorant in this field and I know a lot more about this subject than you can even dream about. For over 30 years, I have been in law enforcement working for a large Sheriff’s Department and continue to see the worst in people everday. When I worked in narcotics,(12 years) I experienced first hand what marijuana, coke and meth do to people and how it destroys families and kills innocent people. I have taken hundreds of people to jail for narcotic violations and have seen law enforcement personnel die in my unit while we enforce the state laws. It would be sad to see these narcotic violations become legal. I can see this trend already happening, like in Colorado. It’s sad to think these good policeman died enforcing the laws they were only trying to enforce, only to have the laws overturned. But I guess that is the what the citizens want. I also do not need numbers to convice me who’s commiting the part I crimes in America. The majoirty of these criminals are narcotics users. That is a fact. If you think I’m wrong, just go visit the County jail and ask Pete if you can visit those nice people who are in jail for stealing, burglary, robbery. All these inmates use narcotics. I now work as a Bomb Technician/Detective and enjoy the times when I can still investigate bomb related crimes and prosecute these idiots who hurt people. That’s the one good part of my job and life I still enjoy, Sending guilty people away for a long time who hurt people.
        That may be the reason for my distastes as you mentioned. Sorry it was so long…

        • ajpagosa

          Appreciate the difficulties you face as a LEO, and generally support LE efforts whenever I can. However it seems you are confounding narcotics and pot. No one is talking about legalizing narcotics.
          And no one should.

          I think this boils down to a lot of bad vs worse choices. People are always going to get high. Do we make them criminals for indulging in the more minor forms of it (and create a vast criminal enterprises to supply it) or do we focus on more important things? Did we learn something from Prohibition?

          Meth, coke heroin, these are BAD. Pot is not good but it is not even in the same league.

          PS: DO not drink smoke or take drugs of any kind personally, more into mental clarity. However if adults want to drink or smoke wee responsibly, fine with me. Penalties for abusing this privilege should be swift and severe, far more than it is now for say drunk driving.

  • ajpagosa

    This is silly. It is legal now. A lot of the arguments stated above make no sense. I am not in favor of encouraging people to escape mental clarity but if they want to and they are adults (and it is legal) why not.

    Simple plan. Allow a small number of provisional licenses for pot businesses. Strictly supervised for a probationary period. If the town becomes over run by smelly hippies as a result (more than it already is) or a Heisenberg-esque drug lord takes over the county then re-evaluate.

    I really don’t care what the Chief of Police thinks, his job is enforcing laws not making them. Locking up people for weed is medieval.

    Oh BTW it is NOT going to be legal to smoke it in public as I understand, so the idea of some Woodstock nation of throngs of stoners stumbling around downtown is over reacting. Plus think of the fines we can reap!

  • Concerned Citizen

    It makes me sad to see archuleta county going against there own people. I recently left pagosa for college and am NOT a pot smoker. However I believe that the government has no business telling people what to do with there own lives/bodies. Sad to see comments from people who are more worried about there own comfort and ignorance to understand that not everyone shares your views, in fact the majority dont. This is a democracy, the majority should win.

  • Snowman

    If Aragon, Weiler, and Hart thought they could make a dime off of it there would be five dispensaries already running. Naturally they use eminent domain to secure the best locations in town to make their profit. They will get the start up capital from a 0 percent loan from PAWSD.

  • LibertyLover

    As someone who is planning a move to the area as I type this, I find this a disgusting display of government overreach. I don’t do drugs, I don’t even smoke at all. However, it is not my right (or that of ANYONE ELSE!) to tell others what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. As long as it would not affect my children or myself physically, they are within their right to choose to smoke marijuana. Where the ELECTED officials don’t listen to the will of the people and the founding principles of this country, but instead their own preferences/beliefs/biases/INTERESTS. I agree that it is not what the police chief wants just as it is not what the council wants. It’s what the people want and even more so individual rights above what the majority say. I’d encourage the council to really consider not acting on fear and bias, but leading the way and standing up for individual liberties. I’d also ask, would they be willing to consider a prohibition on alcohol? As I understand it, that causes much more violence, death, and has many more innocent victims when not uses appropriately than marihuana ever could. Would you prohibit that drug? Or is that one acceptable to you as it’s your drug of preference? Wondering if we should move

    • LibertyLover

      Sorry for typos galore. Mobile. :-)

  • David

    Mr. Cotton is operating from a position of arrogance and ignorance. No sir, you were not elected to make decisions, you were elected to represent the will of your constituency. This attitude is pervasive at all levels of government and we the people need to elect representatives that are intelligent enough to understand their stated obligations. I hope that we will take Mr. Cottons advice and send him packing…