by Joseph Lekarczyk
In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that the author of this article is married to the Mayor.Somewhere between 80 to 100 (I stopped counting at 80, while still more looked for seats) people showed up at Town Hall last Wednesday (January 26) to voice their opinions about “regulating or banning” medical marijuana as a business in Lyons. The Town Staff has held three meetings over the last month, to get input from those in the business, their landlords, and private citizens about their feelings on issues such as: creating a licensing board, number of dispensaries, density, distance from schools, hours of operation, appropriate/inappropriate zones, and signage.
While there were vocal and emotional speakers for both sides of this hot-button issue, it didn’t appear that anyone put forth an argument that swayed one side or the other. The audience’s concerns ranged from protecting the children, to patients’ rights to access to medicine, to High School dropout rates, to uncomfortable explanations of signs to youngsters, to the historical lack of success for bans. For the most part, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen who was moderating the meeting did a fairly good job keeping anything or anyone from getting too personal as she limited speakers to about three minutes. Those that spoke represented a wide cross section of the community to be sure. A former mayor, a pastor, medical marijuana center owners and their employees, teachers, coaches, mothers, fathers, students, business owners, old-timers, new comers, homeowners, and youth counselors. Some made good valid points, others, not so much. But everyone got a chance to voice his or her opinions and feelings.
Also in attendance, but only to listen and observe (none spoke), were four of the six sitting Board of Trustees (BOT) members: Sandy Banta, Ed Bruder, LaVern Johnson, and Kirk Udovich as well as Mayor Julie Van Domelen. Also in attendance but not speaking was ex-Trustee Brian Donnell; you had to believe he wasn’t too sorry he wasn’t the one having to come up with a solution for this mess! As things eventually began to spin in an unwanted direction near the end of the meeting, Simonsen was able to tactfully wrap things up, and told everyone in the room that the next step would be the Staff’s report and recap of the meetings to the BOT at their Monday (January 31) workshop. She also told the crowd that she would be offering Staff recommendations at that time.
The crowd was considerably smaller at the Monday workshop (probably because there wasn’t an opportunity for public comment), with only about two-dozen people braving the frigid temperatures. The Mayor started the workshop by reminding everyone to please be “respectful” to all who were present, and to that end, she asked that there be “no booing or applause” when differing views were expressed. She then went over a time line of what the BOT (past and present) and Staff have been doing over the last 18 months in dealing with the medical marijuana industry. Trustee Bruder was then going to give everyone an update on what is currently going on at the state level with regulations and legislative actions. But since he has been sworn to secrecy (till the information is released to the public later this week) it was all very cryptic, and not too illuminating.
Next up were Simonsen and Economic Development and Community Relations Manager Jacque Watson who were to give the Board a summary of the three previous medical marijuana forums. Simonsen started out by announcing that the only map (which showed the locations and 1,000 foot distances between dispensaries and schools and licensed day care centers) that she had, hadn’t been returned after the last forum, and she put out a plea to please have it returned to Town Hall. She than characterized expressed sentiments from the public forums, the emails, and phone calls that have been coming into the Town. It was evident from the raised eyebrows, and the white knuckles (as they gripped their chairs in an effort not to speak) of a few of the audience members present, that not everyone agreed with Simonsen’s assessment of the feelings and desires of the public. She added the caveat that she was “not basing the recommendation on the number, but rather on the overall sentiment” of the public comments. Her Staff recommendation was for “stringent regulations, not a ban,” and that the Town “continue down the road the Board is on.” She also informed the Trustees that the Town’s Lawyer, Tim Cox, had advised that in the event that a 1,000-foot distance rule was adopted, that the lone dispensary (Headquarters), which does not comply, should be “grandfathered in.” This didn’t seem to sit well with some of the audience either.
When it came time for the Trustees to express their feelings, Trustee Kathy Carroll mused about the change in the “level of engagement” by the public, and wondered, “what had changed?” She then answered her own question by saying, “The people had given an inch, and the medical marijuana businesses had taken a mile.” She called the signage issue the “most important” issue, and noted, “What we can do about it drives everything else.” Trustee Kirk Udovich agreed about the signage, felt strongly about the 1,000-foot rule, said no to grow operations in the Town’s Agricultural zones, wanted a cap on the number of dispensaries (four was too many), and acknowledged the 600-pound gorilla in the room, when he suggested that this issue was “too important” for the seven Board members to decide, and suggested a voter referendum was the way to go. This sentiment was also echoed by Trustee LaVern Johnson, who stated that she was in favor of a ban. She added that if the Board didn’t enact one, “I encourage the citizens to call for a vote.”
Trustee Sandy Banta was in favor of “severely regulating, but not a ban.” She added that she would like to see “a cap on the number of businesses, but not a 1,000-foot rule, because that would push it into our gateway.” She also had concerns about how the Town can put limits and regulations on caregivers, which she believed to be an important issue. Trustee Ed Bruder, a medical marijuana patient, caregiver, and former dispensary owner, at one point stated “I find it increasingly difficult to defend the industry in this town.” Mayor Van Domelen stated she was a “constitutionalist” and therefore did not support a ban. She cited other towns doing so had “pushed the problem on their neighbors” and she didn’t want to be part of that. She also felt that signage was a major issue, and she asked Staff to “look into a Boulder Good Neighbor Program” as a way of bringing the two opposing camps to some sort of common ground, similar to the way the overlay districts and meetings to create them here in Lyons did for the liquor 500-foot rule. Van Domelen was also in support of a cap on the number of dispensaries, and she too felt that regulation of the caregivers was paramount. She also advocated no exterior growing of plants, and putting a limit (12) on the number of plants that could be grown in residential zones.
Time was running out, and a schedule of how and when to move forward was batted around. This has to go back to the PCDC for their input, and then a first reading, a second reading with a public hearing, and then 30 days to enact an ordinance. These could take place between now and the second BOT meeting in March.