By Jackie Morlan
Community engagement is the foundation of a free nation.
The public hearing in Bayfield held on Jan. 30 about lifting the ban on the establishment of marijuana dispensaries, licensed growers and testers of this product within the town limits was indeed a testament to people who were motivated to spend two hours on a Tuesday night voicing their opinions.
There must have been more than 100 people in attendance. What most people seemed to be unaware of at this public hearing was that the Bayfield trustees are elected by town residents and represent the majority of voters or those people who are their constituents.
Not that the voice of the community is not important, but those living within the town borders are the ones who need to decide, in the end.
Most of the 100 people in attendance signed in and after a tally of these signatures, almost 70 perceny of those in attendance were residents of La Plata County, residents of Forest Lakes or Durango. Only 30 out of 100 people were present who lived within the town limits. Most of these people did not speak up. Where were residents of the town?
Communities are engaged when they have a passion about something. It was obvious most people who attended opposed lifting the ban. It was also apparent as one scanned the audience that the younger population of Bayfield was mostly missing. Grey-haired people permeated the room, and I am one of them.
As the night continued, the atmosphere of negativity built as one person after another spoke of their belief that marijuana would lead to a homeless population and crime. Neither homelessness nor crime has been cited as being directly correlated to opening up dispensaries in Mancos nor Durango. Ask the people who know.
One can find information to support most ideas that people want to believe to be true. What can be true for Bayfield residents is to have a source of revenue from the establishment of marijuana dispensaries that could and probably will exceed $6,000 collected in taxes each month. That's what Durango is receiving from each of its 10-plus dispensaries.
Bayfield residents can take the path that leads to being able to proceed with the many projects that have been funded by grants in the recent past.
When all is said and done, the town has no immediate funds to proceed with progressive projects like completing the river trail, producing new signs around town so that people and visitors can easily navigate, creating more fields, and so much more. Bayfield's Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan makes it clear that if the town is to proceed, either more taxes for town residents will need to become a reality, increasing or initiating participants' fees or creating a recreation district.
Lifting the ban is more than just producing more money for Bayfield town residents.
It's about bringing more commerce into our town, creating job opportunities, and it is about being progressive. We all hear about the term "Shop Locally." Let the people who use cannabis or those who want to grow it have the freedom to do so. The trustees of the Town of Bayfield should place the issue on the November ballet so that town residents can have time to study the issue, become more educated about the pros and cons and then vote. That is how democracy works.
Jackie Morlan is a community organizer and longtime resident of Bayfield.