MONTROSE – Through the haze of public reaction to the passage of Amendment 64 last month, one thing remains clear: the State of Colorado has substantial work ahead of it to finalize, and clarify, new marijuana regulations to municipalities and law enforcement agencies across the state.
On Tuesday, the Montrose City Council held a meeting designed to gauge public perspective, and receive feedback, on the new rules. The meeting followed a Nov. 21 session, where council had approved a first reading of a retail marijuana ban within city limits. A unanimous vote for Ordinance 2309, which would prohibit the retail sale of marijuana, remains all but guaranteed.
The ban is in effect until May 3, 2013. Even so, recreational marijuana retail stores cannot legally open anywhere within Colorado until state lawmakers establish procedures to allow business licenses to be issued, and make legal technicalities more clear.
A deadline of Oct. 1, 2013 has been set for the state's Department of Revenue to begin issuing licenses.
Amendment 64 allows adults aged 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and to grow as many as six plants for personal consumption.
On Monday, Montrose County Commissioners approved a similar ban (see related story), joining Douglas County as the only other Colorado county, so far, to ban retail stores.
Only nine people were in the audience when the council voted. Not one supporter of retail sales in Montrose made themselves known at Tuesday's meeting.
Montrose City Manager Bill Bell stated that the city has not received any requests for business licenses, and that local police will continue to enforce federal law.
"Our officers are sworn to enforce federal, state and local law," Bell said.
Within the City, 7,230 citizens voted against Amendment 64 while 5,837 voted in support. In Montrose County, voters rejected the amendment by a count of 10,574 against and 7,976 in favor.
"We want to wait until the state decides to regulate," Bell said.
Reading from a prepared statement, Montrose resident Patricia Vitela explained to the councilors that her family has been "devastated," by the effects of drugs, and marijuana can lead to more frequent and harder drug use. Vitela said she worries that its use among young people could rise, and lead to a new problem with harder drugs in Montrose.
Vitela was the only community member to speak out against marijuana.
"Marijuana use, especially among our impressionable youth, introduces the user to the dark and dangerous drug culture. As folks sit around a coffee table, a campfire, getting stoned, there is also a dealer watching and waiting. Waiting to introduce the users to even more exotic drugs. Cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and sharing needles. ‘If smoking pot makes you feel cool, wait until you try these,’ they whisper," Vitela said.
Vitela said her son, Stephen Lidgey, began using marijuana at the age of 14 while attending high school in Queensbury N.Y. She stated that her son even planted seeds in the garden of their home.
"It was a miracle he graduated from high school, as his senses were dulled most of the time," Vitela said.
Vitela said her son then began a long career with hard drugs. After moving to Montrose years ago, she was able to get her son to move to Montrose to get clean.
He died two years ago at the age of 40, Vitela said, of a drug-related disease.
"Did marijuana kill my son? No. Did the belief that it is cool to use drugs to obtain a high, to alter the brain so one cannot think clearly, kill my son? Yes. When was this belief born? When he smoked his first marijuana cigarette," Vitela said.
Vitela said she had studied all the angles of Amendment 64, including the generation of tax revenues, the overcrowding of jails, and the congested legal system, as well as the fact that marijuana's illegality can draw users just because it is against the law.
Her comments drew loud applause from a capacity crowd in attendance for an unrelated issue.
In other parts of Colorado, district attorneys and city police administrators have already handed down instructions to law enforcement officers to not pursue or prosecute people possessing small amounts of marijuana in the wake of Amendment 64's passage.
Locally, both Grand Junction and Fruita police chiefs have delivered similar directives to their officers.
In Montrose, Police Chief Tom Chinn said his department will continue to uphold the present law until the new amendment takes effect, and with it, specific guidelines.
"We're still waiting on direction from the district attorney and [will] see where he wants us to go," Chinn said. "I'm extremely proud of the city council in taking the position that they did," he added.
Chinn said he expects to see the law enacted after Gov. John Hickenloper certifies the 2012 election results on the first of the year.
Montrose County District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller, whose jurisdiction within the Seventh Judicial District includes Delta, Montrose, San Miguel, Ouray, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties, said he expects the certification will take place either at the end of this week, or early next week.
"My view, and what we intend to do, is to follow state law," Hotsenpiller said. "I expect this thing to become law this week or early next week."
Hotsenpiller said although marijuana in small amounts will be legal to possess, Amendment 64 did not address drug paraphernalia, which includes pipes or other devices used to consume marijuana.
Those devices remain illegal, and the state legislature will have to address this issue, as well as the issue regarding where someone under the age of 21 who is caught in possession of paraphernalia can be charged.
"The legislature will have to change the paraphernalia law if it wants to," Hotsenpiller said.
Chinn said paraphernalia that looks like it has been used or contains drug residue can lead to charges.
"We charge very few of those (cases) at this point in time. Even after January 1, anything under an ounce is legal, and anything over an ounce will be illegal," Chinn said.
Medical marijuana use was approved in Colorado back in 2000, and the laws associated with patients and dispensaries will not to be affected.
Colorado has until July 1, 2013 to adopt regulations for the implementation of marijuana businesses.