Ignacio residents expressed mixed opinions last week on whether to continue a ban on marijuana businesses in town.
The discussion, which took up most of the regular town board meeting on Oct. 5, was prompted by a proposal from Josh and Heather Abrell for a medical marijuana dispensary in town.
"For a town as small as Ignacio, the benefits are 15 percent of what is sold" in town, Josh Abrell said. "At this point, people are going elsewhere for medical or recreational" marijuana. The Abrells also propose a cultivation facility within a three-mile exclusion zone that the county has approved around Ignacio and also Bayfield.
Meadowbrook Mobile Home Park manager Barbara Glick strongly objected to any marijuana businesses in town. "We're a drug-free park. Our waiting list has grown. We don't have any problems in our park any more," she said.
Pete Vigil said, "I don't oppose it. If it's regulated properly, our young kids won't get it." The businesses closely monitor who they sell to, with customers required to show an ID each time to prove they are 21 or older, he said.
"It's better to have the people who use it get it from a dispensary than on the street, the black market," Vigil said. He said the state has gotten more than $250 million from legal marijuana sales. "Why can't our community share in that?"
Abrell cited statistics that marijuana-related crime hasn't gone up with legalization, and under-age use hasn't increased.
But trustee Alison deKay cited a Healthy Kids survey of kids in grades 6-12 showing that under-age use has increased 11 percent in La Plata County from 2014 to 2016. "I work at the elementary school. You'd be surprised what 5, 6, 7 year olds say and what they're exposed to."
Vigil said allowing the business in town "may keep the kids from going out and getting all these bad drugs, meth, heroin. They're getting it from the adults. I use marijuana for PTSD. It keeps me from going where I don't want to go and doing what I don't want to do." He said he goes to his "bunker" to use marijuana.
Josh Abrell said his 14-year-old daughter controls pain from a rare medical condition with CBD marijuana, "which doesn't get you high. I could share stories all night of the people it benefits."
Ignacio's situation is complicated by being within the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, where marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Ignacio Police Chief Kirk Phillips said, "The tribe still has it on their books that it's against the law. Tribal members technically couldn't buy it in town because it's within the reservation boundaries... The tribe could process you for possession anywhere within the reservation if you are Indian. Non Indian, you can possess it" except on tribal trust land or in a tribal facility. "I've never seen the feds prosecute a 1 ounce of marijuana case," he said.
Asked his personal opinion on allowing marijuana businesses in town, Phillips said, "Personally, I don't want to see Ignacio do that. But I understand small towns are looking for ways to raise revenue... One of the cons that always comes up is that minors would have an easier way to get it if adults have it in the house. We haven't seen evidence of that."
Audience member Eppie Quintana said, "Living across the street from the town park, we see all kinds of stuff. With enough changes going on in our culture, I think it's a bad idea to do this. Is it worth the money? Ignacio is a small town, and I like it that way. Do we need all that money?"
Trustee Tom Atencio said he talked to the mayor and two town trustees in Mancos. "They said they were one of the first communities in the area (to have marijuana businesses). They say they are glad they did, because they're able to regulate it. They've said what end of town they want it; not by the grocery store, gas station, school. They have two (businesses) - one recreational, one medical. There was one that closed. They haven't seen crime increase. They say it's gone down for whatever reason."
He continued, "It's already in your back yard, people growing it. If it's here, let's regulate it and make a little revenue. ... There are a lot of medical uses. ... If it's going to help you, let it be available."
Audience member Richard Olguin commented, "I have a boat-load of grandkids. I sure hate the thought of them having to go to Durango for a joint when they can just walk here. I think it's a good idea. Let the town vote where they want it."
There was discussion of doing a community survey or having town residents vote on allowing marijuana businesses.
County Road 320 resident Kathy Kent objected, "I don't want it in town. If there's an election, I can't vote." She lives just outside town limits and doesn't want to annex. "I'm okay with what Pete Vigil is doing, but the rest of it, no," she said.
There was discussion of sending a survey to residents in the Ignacio School District. Atencio objected, "We were voted in here to represent people within the town boundaries, not the school district or the county."
Atencio wanted a public vote. Other town board members weren't ready to make a decision. Discussion will continue at the Oct. 19 board meeting, and Abrell will make a presentation about his business proposal.