By Hal Walter
Marijuana. Most folks are either decidedly for it or against it. Me? I’m mostly a weed spectator though I lean toward the libertarian viewpoint that a person has the right to do whatever to their own body so long as it doesn’t harm others.
Like it or not, marijuana is now legal for both medical and recreational purposes in Colorado and business is booming. You can tell this by the number of shops with mostly cutesy names like “Starbuds” and “Mile High Green Cross” along the highways. And also by the number of greenhouse grow operations springing up across the countryside, particularly in nearby Pueblo County. Whether all this will withstand possible federal legal challenges remains to be seen, but for now a person can buy weed in several Colorado counties and municipalities, and some insiders say the biotech boom in northern Colorado is based on the prospect of future pharmaceutical takeover of the cannabis industry.
Here where I live in Custer County there is a ban on sales and industrial cultivation of marijuana, though residents are free to buy it elsewhere and use it privately.
Meanwhile, to the east, Pueblo County has been called the “Napa Valley of Weed” by The Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. I’ve been astounded by both the number and size of the grow operations that have sprung up along Colorado Route 96 in western Pueblo County.
In Pueblo, not only is growing commercial weed legal, so is selling it for recreational purposes in the county, and the city recently allowed a limited number of retail licenses. Pueblo voters last fall shot down a bid by marijuana opponents to prohibit sales, cultivation and all other marijuana activities in the county. After three years of a weed-fueled economy, voter support for the industry in Pueblo County actually increased from 55 to 58 percent.
It’s no wonder the ballot initiative failed, with the addition of 1,300 marijuana-related jobs, pot sales contributing heftily to the tax base, and a boost to new construction business to the tune of millions of dollars.
However, detractors say the marijuana industry has burdened local support systems, attracted undesirable elements including more homeless people and illegal pot-grow operations, and contributed to Pueblo’s well-documented heroin epidemic. In addition, there’s the Steinbeckian drama of people moving to Pueblo for the marijuana jobs only to find they are largely already taken. I’d call it “The Weed of Wrath,” but I worked in the newspaper business in Pueblo for many years, and can say Pueblo had lots of problems with homelessness, crime and hard drugs long before marijuana was legalized.
In my travels around the Central Colorado area I have taken mental note of dispensary locations. There are a few in Salida and in Fremont County, and pot stores are common throughout the San Luis Valley. There are several on the outskirts of Pueblo and in Pueblo West, and in certain areas of Colorado Springs. San Luis, population 622, has two shops, which seems ludicrous until you consider the town is just a few miles of open road from the New Mexico state line.
With this many choices for pot purchases, it seems the moral “high” ground that abolitionists in Custer County have taken is the classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face – we’re not keeping anyone from buying or using weed. We’re only denying ourselves the tax proceeds when people drive to nearby counties to buy marijuana. Marijuana sellers know this. That’s why Starbuds now advertises in the Wet Mountain Tribune.
Speaking of taxes, much of the argument for legalizing pot was centered on proceeds going toward education. As it turns out this is true, but most of the money is earmarked for drug education and for capital improvements. It doesn’t really help a school district like ours here in Custer County that simply needs additional funds to pay good salaries that teachers deserve. This seems like an issue that really needs to be readdressed.
Recently while giving one of my talks about being an autism parent, I was asked by a person in the audience if we had considered trying medical marijuana with my son. My answer was no, that for starters it’s illegal to give marijuana to a minor child, and autism is not a qualifying condition for a medical marijuana card. Moreover, while the day-to-day challenges are often intense, I don’t believe the answer to my child’s issues is drugs of any type, whether that be marijuana or other pharmaceuticals. Some studies show possible harm to young brains that are exposed to marijuana, and every friend I’ve known to commit suicide was on some sort of doctor-prescribed antidepressant or other psych med.
Still, the medicinal potential of cannabis remains intriguing. A neighbor of mine whose animals I care for when she is out of town called recently. I’ve known she’s been battling cancer for some time because I’ve watched her ranch while she travels to out-of-town doctor’s appointments. During this conversation she told me that she had opted out of chemo treatments and decided to treat her lymphoma using medical marijuana instead. She related to me that she is not a fan of recreational use but had done a ton of research and decided to try cannabis. In just a few short months, three of her five tumors had vanished, and the other two had not grown. She was hoping that her next visit to the doctor would show these remaining tumors had either shrunk or vanished. It’s hard to argue with such an outcome.
What will happen with the future of marijuana in Colorado is anybody’s guess. My prediction is that as other states move to legalize, Colorado’s booming weed industry will experience some sort of bust, like mining or casino gambling. Or maybe it’ll be more like the ski industry, with about 30 big players still in operation but 145 resorts out of business. Or perhaps the pharmaceutical cartel will take over the industry as others have predicted. Only time will tell.
Hal’s books Full Tilt Boogie and Endurance are available from The Book Haven in Salida.