Tuesday night’s Paonia Town Council meeting drew a much larger crowd than usual, with a full house of residents gathered to voice their opinions on how the town should deal with Amendment 64, the Colorado measure that legalizes commercial marijuana activity.
On the meeting's agenda was a move to appoint a local regulator - a group of people or person who would sign off on state-approved retail marijuana licenses for shops or facilities. That was apparently cause for alarm for most people at the meeting, with the overwhelming majority of those that spoke to the council outlining their fears that opening the town up to marijuana businesses would pose a variety of threats, especially to the safety of children and teenagers.
People lined up at the microphone to speak their minds. For one resident, the council’s move to appoint a local regulator essentially implied the town had made up its mind to move forward with Amendment 64. Another feared that even if the issue is put to a vote next year, if the town places no moratorium on retail marijuana sales, outside interests will have the chance to influence that vote.
"The people that are coming in, are now going to have an upper hand," that resident said. "You're going to pull people that are going to want to keep their business here no matter what, and that vote in my opinion will be skewed by them."
One speaker summed up what was arguably the most pressing concern for those opposed to regulation.
"I don’t see how something like this can even be considered to be passed, because there’s no possible means of guaranteeing that medical marijuana, marijuana sold for recreational use, or any of such, will not end up in the kids’ hands," he said.
Other concerns focused on public safety. Referring to alcohol, one resident claimed "we already have one dangerous drug" that when mixed with driving creates dangerous situations, and that "we don't need another."
One of the few supporters of Amendment 64 in attendance described the crowd’s majority opposition as a "vocal minority," adding that marijuana use is already a reality in Paonia, and that regulating it could bring in valuable revenue.
"The idea that I hear from people about how you don’t want Paonia to be known for pot is ludicrous because, it is," he said. "It's here in Colorado and that's the way it is. You don’t have money for sidewalks, you don’t have money for the library, but nobody wants to see this as a new revenue stream."
Another supporter was laughed at as he claimed that legal retail marijuana might save the entire country from its financial woes.
Tensions mounted as another pro-marijuana speaker and former owner of a medical marijuana business in Paonia was interrupted during his allotted time, prompting Mayor Neal Schwieterman to call for order. An opponent in the crowd interrupted the man, asking him how long he's lived in Paonia, and telling the speaker "you don't know anything about this community." Schwieterman said he would have the interrupter removed by police if necessary, to which the man responded "do what you gotta do." After some pleading from others in the crowd for order as well, the man let the speaker finish and the proceedings continued.
Many other residents spoke at the meeting, with some saying they feared an increase in crime would follow marijuana businesses to town if the council decides to move forward with regulation.
The council approved a motion to vote at its next meeting whether to place a moratorium on retail marijuana activity until the issue could be put before voters. As outlined in Amendment 64, the earliest that vote could take place is November of 2014.