Sunday, December 19, 2010

Citizenship at Work -
Medical Marijuana in GJ

The other example of citizens actively participating in government beyond the ballot box last week was the protest of the City of Grand Junction's ordinance banning Medical Marijuana (MMJ) dispensaries in the city limits.

As I outlined in a previous post, Article XVI, Section 136 of the City Charter provides for the following to protest an ordinance enacted by Council:
If signatures can be secured from City residents that are registered to vote equal to 10 percent of those who voted in the last election for Governor, the implementation of the ordinance will be suspended, and Council must either repeal the protested ordinance or put it before the voters at either the next municipal election, or a special election. The only exception to this is those ordinances passed under the charter's "special emergency" provision, which require a unanimous vote of Council and are effective immediately.
Immediately after Council passed the ordinance on October 4 to ban MMJ dispensaries starting January 1, efforts began to secure the necessary 1,860 signatures from registered voters in the City within 30 days to force reconsideration of the ordinance. It's a safe bet that the framers of the charter did not anticipate the power of mass media and social networking. Mesa County Constitution Advocates leveraged both to organize and conduct a petition drive. The required signatures were submitted in time and validated by the City Clerk, and as a result Council had decisions to make.

The first thing they decided to do was extend the moratorium on new dispensaries beyond the date of the next municipal election in April. They had to do this via ordinance, and passed one last Monday using the "special emergency" provision of the City Charter. This allows an ordinance to be passed and take effect immediately "for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety, and then only by the unanimous vote of all members of the council".

I don't think that the possibility of new dispensaries before the election constitutes a "special emergency". The marketplace will likely govern itself, as no one with any business sense would likely open a new dispensary now, when the possibility exists that they may have to close by next summer. The big issue here is not the extension of the moratorium; it's the legislative overreach and the misuse of "emergency" power, similar to the failed attempt last year to outlaw panhandling.

Council then decided last Wednesday to put the existing ordinance to the voters of the City at the next municipal election, this coming April 5.

Mesa County Constitution Advocates (would a better name be 'Charter Advocates'?) deserve credit for a solid effort to use the resources at their disposal to effect what seems to be the preferred course of action by City Council; having the electorate decide, as Mesa County voters did, whether or not to permit dispensaries in the community.

Hopefully, this fledgling group's efforts will not end with this particular issue. According to spokesperson Cat Coughran, the group will have a dedicated website to accompany their Facebook page in the near future, as part of an effort to ramp up and get the vote out for MMJ dispensaries in the City. This type of advocacy for all manner of City Council issues, including annexation ordinances, may prove useful in the future.

I believe that government is catching up to the marketplace in ways appropriate to both safety and community standards. As I've mentioned before, both Colorado Springs and unincorporated El Paso County appear to be embracing dispensaries as both a deterrent to the illicit street trade and a source of sales tax revenue. The state is developing new regulations, and asking for public comment. This would appear at the surface to be the kind of activity necessary to get all levels of local and state government up to speed.

The MMJ issue involves numerous perspectives, some educated and others....well, you know. I know that there are those for whom MMJ is a safe and effective alternative to ineffective and/or self-destructive "conventional" therapies. I believe that questionable and inappropriate use of MMJ by those who do not have a medical need for it is an issue that needs to be dealt with, as are those with a medical justification for use who choose to distribute their MMJ to those who do not.

Congratulations to those citizens that have leveraged knowledge, information and commitment toward constructive change. Regardless of your position on these issues, both the 29 3/4 Road neighborhood and Mesa County Constitution Advocates have set a solid example to follow for all citizens that truly care about the quality of their lives.

May you find some personal peace during the hectic lead-up to the birthday of the Prince of Peace. Have a great week ahead.

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