ALAMOSA — Most of those who shared their thoughts with the Alamosa city council this week on a proposed marijuana ordinance suggested the city loosen it up or ditch it altogether.
As proposed, the ordinance would limit the number of marijuana plants to 12 for an individual’s use in the city limits. The plants would be restricted to indoors in enclosed and locked areas of no more than 100 square feet or 1,000 total cubic feet in volume, measuring from the plants’ dripline. Marijuana plants could only be grown in primary residences or accessory structures on the primary residence property. They could not be grown in the primary bedroom, bathroom or kitchen.
They would not be allowed in multiple-family dwellings or outdoors, which was one of the main points of contention for many who attended the city’s work session on the proposed ordinance this week. Several people asked that the ordinance be amended to allow outdoor growing.
In addition, the lighting source for the plants would have to be LEDs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or fluorescent lighting. This was also a point of contention, as several audience members said many people could not afford that type of lighting.
The proposed ordinance states that any personal marijuana growth/cultivation should not be perceptible either visually or through odors.
The City of Alamosa does not allow retail sales of either medical or recreational marijuana but because of a voter-approved state amendment cannot prohibit marijuana plant cultivation for individual use. The city can, however, limit the number of plants that can be grown and regulate that growth, which is what the proposed ordinance would do.
The work session this week was simply to receive public input. The council will formally deal with the ordinance on first reading during its 7 p.m. May 17th meeting and probably hold a public hearing followed by action on the second reading during its June 7th meeting.
The entire proposed ordinance can be found on the city’s web site at http://cityofalamosa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/PSA-Marijuana-Ordinance-1.pdf
Ten people shared their thoughts with the city council on Wednesday with all but two of them suggesting the city relax the proposed restrictions or stop pursuing an ordinance altogether.
Jennifer Miller, a retired Army veteran who suffers from PTSD, said with limited resources for veterans in this area, marijuana needs to be a viable alternative to other PTSD treatments. People also need to be able to grow their own, she added, and to be able to control the growing conditions according to their own preferences.
Miller added that many folks could not afford to comply with some of the restrictions such as LED lighting.
Caitlin Allison also advocated for growing plants outside, which would reduce costs because people could rely on the sun and rain.
“Growing indoors is expensive,” she said. “Please allow outdoor growing.”
Shanna Hobbs, who manages a medical marijuana business outside the city limits, said her main concern was the restriction to indoor growing. She said it is more expensive and more difficult to grow marijuana indoors, and although marijuana is not another houseplant it provides more benefits than other plants. It is a flowering herb with medicinal qualities, she said.
She said many people could not afford to put in an indoor growing system as prescribed in the city ordinance, with LED lights and other accessories, which would cost $3,000-5,000.
Hobbs added that marijuana plants do not produce a noxious odor. She added there are much worse fumes in Alamosa.
Sherri, who did not give her last name, said restricting the number of permitted marijuana plants to 12 might force some folks to move from Alamosa. She said due to the San Luis Valley’s short growing season it is imperative that patients who use medical marijuana be allowed to grow as much as they could. It is a hardship for them to have to buy it, she added, especially since insurance companies do not cover it.
Since medical marijuana is also not commercially available in the city limits, people have to drive outside of Alamosa to get it, she added.
“It is pretty sad just for some medicine,” she said.
Robert Garcia said there are so many problem drugs like cocaine and heroin, “and we are sitting here talking about 12 plants growing outdoors.”
He said he did not see a problem with growing marijuana outdoors and has had neighbors who grew it without causing any problems.
Ruthie Brown said she sells products at her shop that some people use to grow their own marijuana. Those folks might include a 75-year-old grandmother raising it for her husband who has glaucoma or folks who use it to alleviate their suffering from cancer. She said these customers have not bounced checks on her or stolen from her. It is not the people using marijuana who are out robbing people, she said.
“What are we doing to stop meth and heroin,” she asked. When babies are born addicted to those substances, “What in the heck are we doing about that problem?” she asked.
Brown added her concerns to others who said requiring LED lighting for indoor growing was an expense most people could not afford. She also questioned the practicality of the space restrictions.
She added that if she did not understand what the gray or black market was for marijuana, “but if there’s a bad market in town, it’s for the cocaine, the meth, the heroin, the barbiturates, all that stuff that’s killing people in our community.”
Brown said if the city was going to enact an ordinance “just to make an ordinance,” it needed to be enforceable or it would just be a waste of time. She added there are already many laws on the books that are not being enforced.
She questioned what had prompted this ordinance in the first place and questioned why it was even necessary.
She said if the city was worried about odors, “you may have to close down the mushroom farm.”
Rosanna Atencio, who lives in Antonito, agreed that there were more important issues for Alamosa to worry about than marijuana. She said the ordinance was a waste of time and resources and was picking on a certain group of people.
She questioned what the city based its ordinance on because an ordinance for Alamosa would not need to look the same as one for Aurora, for example.
“You have the opportunity to start from the ground up and make it for your citizens,” she said.
She added, “Protect their rights. Let them have their medicine.”
Dan McCann, a veteran, said he did not have a problem with veterans using marijuana. He agreed with other speakers who said there are worse problems and more dangerous situations here than marijuana, like people using cell phones while they’re driving.
Two people who believed the ordinance might be too generous were Dr. Terry Wiley and Cynthia Walsh.
Dr. Wiley said Alamosa needs to avoid the problems other places like Pueblo have had with marijuana grow operations.
“We want to keep our children safe,” he said. He thanked the council for the work it was doing on this issue.
Walsh also commended the city for its work on this ordinance and for regulating marijuana. She reminded the council that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
She said marijuana does produce a noxious odor, and there’s a reason users call it “skunk weed.”
Walsh said if people want marijuana to be controlled like alcohol, they should remember that individuals are not allowed to distill spirits in their own homes either.
She said marijuana plants could grow as tall as 15 feet outdoors.
She pointed to the crisis in Pueblo where drugs have become such a problem the hospitals there are having a hard time recruiting emergency room physicians. She said a physician there also attributed an increase in suicides to marijuana.
Walsh said there may be some factors about marijuana that are beneficial, but its use needs to be supervised.
“I appreciate your efforts to keep our community the quality that we have had it,” she said.
Caption: Robert Garcia poses questions to the Alamosa city council on Wednesday. Courier photo by Ruth Heide