Alamosa puts pot on the ballot — again

ALAMOSA — Alamosa city council this week decided to place a petition-initiated marijuana issue on the 2019 ballot.

The council had two choices regarding the request to ban outdoor marijuana growing in the city limits: 1) amend the city’s 2017 ordinance regulating personal marijuana growing; or 2) put the matter on the next regular election ballot in the fall of 2019.

Alamosa City Clerk Holly Martinez told the council the petitioners did not collect enough valid signatures to require a special election this year, which would have required 318 valid signatures (Martinez verified 309 of the 364 signatures collected as valid) but they did collect sufficient signatures to require action from the council either through an amended ordinance or ballot question for 2019.

Councilors unanimously opted for the 2019 ballot question.

The ordinance the council approved last year permits six marijuana plants per person or 12 per household whether they are grown indoors or outdoors, Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow clarified.

Alamosa City Councilor Charles Griego said he believed the ordinance that council approved last year was well thought out and had given the public many opportunities to comment. “We spent a lot of time on this,” he said.

He said he had been concerned that the petitions might have required a special election this year, which would have cost the city about $11,000 that was not budgeted this year. However, now the city council can place the issue on the ballot next year when an election is already scheduled and budgeted for (approximately $10,000 as part of a coordinated election.)

Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley agreed. She said the council did not make its decisions regarding last year’s ordinance lightly but had put much time and thought into it. She added she would rather see someone growing marijuana outdoors than in an unsafe manner indoors, which might be the case with people who could not afford expensive indoor growing equipment.

Councilman Jan Vigil also agreed. “I am going to stand by what I did a year ago,” he said. He said with the work sessions and public hearings the council had at that time regarding the marijuana ordinance, it was no surprise to anyone. The city also aligned its ordinance with the state, he pointed out.

Vigil agreed with Hensley that indoor growing conditions could pose safety concerns with electrical wiring and ventilation.

He added, “Frankly our growing season here is so short I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of marijuana grown outdoors anyway.”

Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman agreed. “We did do our homework. We did do research. We did all that we could do … to put this in place, but there’s a process when you have a democracy, and we will continue to follow that process.”

Audience speaks

Several members of the audience spoke during the public hearing on this matter.

Robert, who gave no last name, said people should have the right do what they want on their own properties. He said marijuana has been legal in Colorado, and federal officials have acknowledged that. Maybe an election would allow everyone to express their choices, he said.

Dr. Terry Wiley said the city did a good job developing an ordinance governing indoor growing and it aligned with the state laws, but initially the city’s ordinance did not allow outdoor growing and then it switched by the time the council approved it. He said he had no issue with people who used it properly for a medical prescription but cautioned against uses that could cause potential blight in the community.

Joan Couture, one of the petition sponsors bringing the matter before council, said she had a difference of opinion with the city clerk regarding the petitions and believed the petitioners had not been given all the facts regarding what was required.

She urged for more immediate action than 2019. She said that was two growing seasons away, and during that time seeds would be scattered, and many problems could arise before then.

Couture also read statements from Mac McFadden and his daughter Anne Steinhage who were present but had to leave before the matter came up in the lengthy April 18th agenda.

In her statement Steinhage said she was opposed to outdoor growing because of the odor of the plants, which smell like skunk, only the smell of a skunk that has passed through fades away while the odor of the marijuana plants would not. She said friends of hers in Durango said the smell of outdoor grows was present almost a mile away. She said one’s right ends where another’s nose begins.

She was also concerned about increased crime.

McFadden said he loved the quality of life in Alamosa, where he has lived for many years, and he would like to keep it that way. He said he did not want to see marijuana in the city limits or his neighborhood because of the odor and other problems associated with it.

He added that he signed the petition to ban outdoor grows, but his signature was not accepted. He said at age 98 and with Parkinson’s, his signature is sometimes shaky, but he would have hoped the signature of a 98-year-old World War II veteran would count for something. He urged the council to approve the ordinance amendment.

Ruthie Brown said she has never walked by a yard that had marijuana growing in it but knew what the mushroom farm smelled like and the city compost area. She added she had mixed feelings about it, because while she respected Mac and Anne as friends, she agreed that people should be able to do what they want on their own private property.

Although not a user herself, she said at her business she meets people every day who grow marijuana. “I have never met anyone bad,” she said. She did not blame marijuana for increased crime, such as the robbery and break-ins at her store and the destruction of property at her rental property.

“If everyone who was against marijuana would show that same outrage about the meth and heroin, maybe we would not have babies being born addicted to drugs,” she said. “Maybe then the crime rates would go down. But to say not letting people grow marijuana in their backyard is going to make a difference in crime, take it to a vote. Let the people decide … The meth and heroin is what is killing people.”

Brian Puccerella said he has a close friend who controls a disease he has with marijuana, and he is able to grow his own medicine. “We are talking one or two plants, probably not something you can smell from the street … Everybody would support banning commercial production but one or two plants just seems ridiculous to me.”