Citizens let city know thoughts about dispensary
The Yuma City Council heard from plenty of residents about potential plans for a marijuana dispensary in town during its regular meeting last week prior to Thanksgiving.
It was the council’s first meeting since Joe Harper abruptly resigned as mayor at the previous one. He had announced he was done and walked out after it became apparent the rest of the council was mostly in favor of looking into allowing a dispensary in town.
More than 60 percent of voters in Yuma, and throughout Yuma County, voted against Amendment 64 in 2012. It passed statewide, opening the door for retail marijuana dispensaries and the possession of a limited amount of marijuana products by those 21 or older. The Yuma City Council at that time then passed a moratorium to ban dispensaries from locating within the city limits.
Yuma voters did approve a ballot issue last April allowing the city to set a sales tax on marijuana sales with revenue capped at $1 million. It partly was sold as allowing the city to be ready in case a citizens’ initiative allowing dispensaries would be passed by voters someday.
All six remaining council members were in attendance at last week’s meeting, appointed mayor Ron Swehla, who moved up from mayor pro-tem, Dan Baucke, Bethleen McCall, Luke Goeglein, Ryan Saffer and Steve Hoch.
While the issue was not on the agenda, several were in attendance to provide comments. Most voiced opposition, but not all.
Keven Means said it seemed like the council was more worried about finding ways to bring money into the city coffers than respecting the will of the majority that voted against legalization. He said the revenue does not justify the extra costs, and said he had spoken to members of Morgan County law enforcement who told him things going on there “were unbelievable.”
He said he was tired of elected officials overriding the will of the voters, and it proves why the vast majority of voters in Yuma vote Republican. He suggested the people of Yuma probably would prefer a tax increase rather than having dispensaries in town, though he quickly clarified he was not suggesting the city pursue that avenue.
Pastor Dennis FitzPatrick of St. John’s Lutheran Church presented packets he had prepared for the council. “It’s garbage,” he said of the idea of a dispensary being allowed in town.
Lola Mathias said that with all due respect to the city leaders, she agreed with the anti-dispensary sentiment, and asked what kind of message would be sent to the community’s youth. She provided information from a group called Smart Colorado about issues in Denver, and noted that marijuana potency has increased significantly, Colorado ranks high in teen usage, and use at a young age impairs brain development.
“We trusted you to be ethical and responsible,” she said, adding it would open a Pandora’s Box of trouble, such as an extra burden on law enforcement, health providers and human resources.
Gene Seward, who was mayor from 2008-12, told the council he had signed the moratorium after Amendment 64 passed.
“You should have a vote on this to see if people really want this in our town,” he said, adding he was not happy with what was taking place.
Kevin Mathias told the council he drives a school bus in the mornings and sees a lot of kids from problem homes. He said a dispensary will create more problems with children and families, and added that in other communities it has led to more homeless showing up and the need to open shelters.
“We have a wonderful community,” he said. “Tax wise is it worth destroying one family? I don’t think so.”
Keith Jones told the council the community does not need a dispenary here. “It’s going to bring a lot of heartache into our town. Let’s vote on this…I can tell you one thing, we don’t need it.”
Chuck Bridges echoed that sentiment. He told the council he would fight it with everything he has if the city proceeds with a dispensary. “The kind of money we’re talking about here isn’t going to make that much difference with all the problems it’s going to create,” he said.
One commenter, Nick McCasland, did speak in favor of having a dispensary. He said marijuana already is in town, and added that drug dealers likely are selling a lot more than just marijuana. He said he thinks the sale of marijuana needs to be controlled through one place.
Council members did not respond during the public comments. A community meeting is being by planned by the city for sometime in January to discuss the issue further. More details will follow later when date, location and time are set. Dispensaries will not be an agenda discussion item in a council meeting until after that community meeting.