Four years ago public lands surrounding the North Fork Valley were nominated for BLM gas leasing and suddenly the lives of hundreds of valley residents were gripped by uncertainty. BLM was planning an auction and the direction of commerce in the valley could suddenly change.
The benefits listed were jobs and tax monies both from the sale and mineral royalties. People objected. It seemed that the BLM was being directed by an industry. We doubted that this would be lucrative for the taxpayers and argued that the cost of mitigating unforeseen side effects would be greater than the financial gain. The valley wanted all possible impacts to be reviewed, it asked for a drilling moratorium, it asked for a drilling ban. A shadow was cast over the valley. What family would move to an area that was tainted by this industry? Among concerns cited were increased drug use; doped roughnecks working dangerous jobs. We worried about the risks of traffic on our highways and roads. An alternative plan was developed by the Conservation Center and the Paonia Town Council signed on.
Today our council seems unmoved by residents who are similarly concerned by the threat of another industry within Paonia town limits, the commercial recreational marijuana (CRM) industry. Oddly enough, current concerns mirror those presented by the specter of drilling; these include increased drug use, burdens to law enforcement, the danger of unsafe drivers on roads and highways, and a transient population that would not be committed to the values of this small town. Similar to fracking, the long-term impacts of CRM are yet unknown.
What family with children would want to move into a town whose commercial core is studded with adult businesses and whose activity revolves visibly around the sale of famous recreational marijuana strains? What other businesses would locate here? What jobs would be available for the young folk?
As with gas and the BLM, a burgeoning CRM industry attempts to sway the Paonia town council with promises of financial gain. CRM has no proven tax benefit to the public and if modeled after alcohol or cigarettes will be more of a burden than asset to the town and society as a whole.
How can our community face the BLM again when its standards of review are so unfairly applied? If we expect the BLM to go above and beyond with their planning process, shouldn't we also expect the same from the Paonia Town Council?
While embraced by many, marijuana is a delicate or offensive issue for many others. The spaces that we share at close proximity are simply too precious to fracture by flaunting extremes rather than trying to live in harmony. If this divisive commercial venture were inserted into Paonia, a significant portion of the town could be harmed. The concentrated production, processing and sale of CRM within town limits would "frack" Paonia. It would drive an awful wedge into the core of our community. I conclude that it is more important to maintain neutrality and encourage the healthy integration of diverse residents than to submit to such a controversial item. Please, Paonia, either opt out for now or declare a moratorium until the impacts can be better understood. Council members, please consider the entire town, including the children — brain-altering adolescent addiction is caused by access, societal acceptance and perceptions of drug safety. What is good for commercial marijuana would be bad for Paonia.
For more information please reference SMARTCOLORADO.org and drthurstone.com