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Citizens weigh in on cannabis proposal

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An ordinance being considered by the Paonia board of trustees could limit the number of marijuana plants grown at a single residence to six while allowing for 12 plants to be grown for medicinal purposes. But in enforcing the ordinance, how can police officers differentiate between plants grown for medicinal use and those grown for recreational use?

And what if the plants growing are actually hemp, which is regulated under agricultural laws?

Those were just some of the concerns that arose from a recent public meeting to discuss the draft ordinance, which was originally up for consideration at the Sept. 26 board meeting but was tabled to give the public and trustees more time to consider its implications.

The meeting was sparsely attended, which could have been due to a lack of interest, or to the fact that it coincided with game seven of the World Series.

Trustees and town governmental affairs/public safety committee members Suzanne Watson and Barry Pennell hosted the meeting. Police Chief Neil Ferguson and town attorney Bo Nerlin were present to answer questions.

The ordinance mirrors a new state law slated to go into effect Jan. 1. Under House Bill 1220, the state will cap recreational growers at 12 plants per residential property, and growers of licensed medicinal growers and caregivers at 24. The bill allows for local municipalities to enact more strict rules.

Under the town ordinance, plants must be grown in an enclosed and locked structure as required under the state Constitution following passage of Amendment 64 in 2012. Structures must also comply with local building, fire and zoning codes and must meet setback and height requirements.

If the current draft ordinance is passed, violations would result in a $250 fine for a first offense and a court summons for each additional offense. Based on comments he's heard from constituents and at the meeting, Pennell suggested allowing the maximum 12 plants, regardless of intended use, and doubling the initial fine. That way there is no confusion over the intended use, and the higher fine could deter violations, said Pennell

Chief Ferguson explained that the ordinance is as much about protecting growers as it is about protecting the general public. Three years ago when the department began enforcing residential grows, they handled numerous reports of break-ins and thefts of plants. In the pat two years, said Ferguson, as more people are following the law, reports of theft have averaged about six per year.

No actions were allowed to be taken at the meeting, but Pennell called it a good first step in determining what is best for the citizens. "We want to hear from people" about the issue, said Pennell.

Trustees are scheduled to consider the ordinance at the Nov. 28 board meeting.

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North Fork
Marijuana, Paonia
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