Marijuana goes to vote in Larkspur

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In a town council decision that passed by a hair, the option of whether to welcome the medical marijuana industry to the town of Larkspur will go to a public vote.

On Aug. 5, town council voted 3-2 in favor of placing three ballot questions before Larkspur residents to decide whether to prohibit medical marijuana centers, grow operations and marijuana-infused products manufacturers. During the debate portion of the public hearing, councilmembers were divided in their opinions and faced a possible split vote because of the absence of one councilmember.

The town’s mayor pro-tem Shannon Buss excused her self from the vote because of a conflict of interest. Buss is listed on the business license of the town’s only medical marijuana center, and despite her claims she no longer owns the Larkspur Alternative Medicine Center LLC, she still has an interest in the outcome of the decision, she said.

Buss was advised at a July 1 council meeting that, because of her interest in the business, state statute prohibits her from engaging in the dialogue or casting a vote. On July 9, a form was filed at the Colorado secretary of state’s office, changing the business’s registered agent from Buss to Debra Ann Russo, of Castle Rock.

The change was not enough to open the door for Buss to be part of the medical marijuana decision.

“I’m no longer an owner, but I still have a financial interest,” she said, as she left the room in advance of the public hearing.

Her departure left six councilmembers who were evenly divided in their opinions on medical marijuana. Councilmember Lana Wagner, who said her opinion has changed since she began her medical marijuana research, did not trust her constituents to make an educated decision.

“It’s really hard for me (to decide) if I want it to go to a vote because people don’t educate themselves,” Wagner said. “I want people to be able to get (medical marijuana) comfortably and not have to go to a caregiver.”

Wagner originally opposed medical marijuana, until she found she has friends who use the product in favor of pharmaceutical medicines, she said. Wagner fills three prescriptions every month at a Castle Rock pharmacy and was in favor of keeping the Larkspur Alternative Medicine Center open as a local option for medical marijuana patients. She also cited the potential financial benefits from Larkspur operations.

She was among councilmembers who heard a diverse range of public opinion, from local caregivers to patients who use the product and residents who oppose the industry.

“I would like to see the whole thing banned,” said Kris Cutbirth. “It’s dirty money as far as I’m concerned.”

Cutbirth shared the microphone with James McVaney, a local caregiver who said a ban is tantamount to a constitutional violation.

“Amendment 20 allows dispensing operations,” McVaney said. “You can’t take away a constitutional right.”

McVaney was among those speakers who urged councilmembers to regulate the industry and create licensing procedures for centers, grow operations and infused products manufacturers. By deciding on a public vote, Larkspur joins Douglas County, Lone Tree and Castle Pines North among local governments which will send medical marijuana to a public vote. In Douglas County, the vote will go only to those residents in unincorporated portions of the county, a first-of-its kind voting body.

Parker Town Council opted for a ban, and Castle Rock will hear its first reading of a ban ordinance Aug. 24.

Banning medical marijuana in Larkspur could have little effect on the trade, McVaney said, alleging the industry already is thriving in private homes throughout Larkspur.

“There are some neighborhoods in Larkspur where 100 percent of the people grow their own in their backyards,” McVaney said.

Mayor Sherilyn West, who is in favor of sending the question to voters, used that opportunity to illustrate that people in Larkspur have plenty of self-education about marijuana.

“It sounds like most of the people in town either grow it or smoke it,” West said. “So why would it hurt to send it to a vote?”

West was joined by councilmembers Eve Curry-Harbison and Joseph Jeske to vote in favor of the ballot questions. Councilmembers Matias Cumsille and Rich Cargill voted against the resolutions. Wagner, who didn’t want to send the question to the public, swung the pendulum when she abstained from voting. Her decision to abstain resulted in approval of the resolutions.

Had she voted no, it would have resulted in a split vote and no action on the part of the council.

Councilmembers opted for a public outreach to give voters an opportunity to get educated about medical marijuana. To effectively manage the outreach and give people ample time to come to a decision, councilmembers slated Jan. 25, 2011, for a Larkspur special election on medical marijuana.