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Clearing the air on pot differences in Huerfano County

WALSENBURG— The Huerfano County planning commission held a joint meeting (no pun intended) Wednesday night, March 12, on whether to allow a moratorium in the county against the growing or selling of marijuana to expire at the end of the month. Close to 50 people attended the public hearing, and about 15 people signed up to address the board. Commissioner Art Bobian started things off by stating, “There is a fact. The fact is, amendment 64 was passed by the voters. We’re here looking for opinions as to whether we should renew the county moratorium or not. You’re opinions are important to us.” And opinions are what he got. People spoke about money. People talked about how pot is now legal, and other communities are benefiting from the growth and sale of marijuana; why shouldn’t Huerfano County? Others said that government estimates on how much tax revenue could be made were wildly inaccurate and should not be trusted, whereas still others said tax projections were low-balling.­ David Gnaizda of Gardner said, “Marijuana

numbers are real. This is a cash industry. Now is the time to do this.” J.R. Barel of Navajo Ranch presented the commission with a written report on what the state was collecting in taxes, and what other counties were collecting locally from their dispensaries. Chaffee County collected $38,000 in January alone, and Clear Creek County collected $35,000. The state collected $1.3 million on January. There are 30 counties in the state that directly collect taxes on marijuana sales, but Huerfano and Las Animas counties are not among them. Barel ended his presentation with the thought, “Why are we delaying with this moratorium? I’d like to encourage the planning commission to decide quickly.” Barbara Johnson and her partner, Jim Hillaker of Urban Smokin’ in Walsenburg spoke how they “feel strongly” that pot is a good thing, with many people getting medical benefits from pot, as well as large amounts of money can be made from it. They are planning on opening a dispensary out at the old Pizza Hut (Potza Hut?) in Northlands. People talked about the pervasiveness of pot in Huerfano County. Stuart Hunter stated, “This is not a new issue in Huerfano County. They have been growing weed up in Turkey Creek FOREVER. It is part of the culture here; we should embrace it.” Dennis Hoyt, when he addressed the board, after hearing how prevalent pot was in the Gardner area, sarcastically commented, “I didn’t know there was so much pot in the county,” to which an audience member piped up, “Where have YOU been?” People spoke on the health affects of marijuana; with comments ranging from it was a great medicine and pain reliever, to its destructive effects on families and relationships. One woman spoke passionately how her grown daughter’s life has been ruined, and her son-in-law and grand-daughter both died of marijuana-related health problems. Others pointed out that ANY smoke in your lungs is not a healthy thing. Mark Brunner of the La Veta ambulance service spoke about potential problems of people partaking in pot while on a day-trip in Cuchara, then trying to negotiate the twisting road down to La Veta and I-25 while stoned. He noted that emergency services are not slated to receive any of the state tax monies on pot sales, and this would put an additional burden on first responder crews. Other speakers spoke how people who smoked pot would not be able to pass an employer’s drug test. All told, the crowd seemed fairly evenly split on the subject, with slightly more for than against. People spoke passionately, and from the heart, but every speaker was politely received and applauded as they finished. As this was a listening session for the planning commission, no decision or action was taken at the end of the night. The commission will make a recommendation to the county commissioners (two of whom, Art Bobian and Ray Garcia were in attendance) who will make the final decision on what, if any, action will be taken regarding the growing, refining or selling of marijuana in the county.