Even for a city always crawling with military brass, our June 2 visitor was still a cut above. The Commander in Chief was in town to address the Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony — an affair that brought in proud families from all over the country and, of course, sizable media attention.
Local cannabis activists saw an opportunity in the occasion. Rolling out of bed at sunrise, a group of 10 diehards gathered around the Academy's gates to send a message to President Barack Obama, Mayor John Suthers and all the ceremony attendees: Leave patients alone.
That sentiment is multi-faceted. This week's CannaBiz will take on the local portion; next week's will tackle the national. (The two are interrelated.)
Sondra Plunk, organizer with the Cannabis Patient Rights Coalition, complained that although Mayor Suthers made clear he had reservations about legalization while campaigning, he didn't warn that regulations on the medical side would be tightened. She says caregivers feel blindsided by the recently enacted ordinance limiting private residences to 12 plants. (Go to Indyweed.com for previous coverage of the lead-up to and passage and consequences of the ordinance.)
"People in this town voted in medical and recreational cannabis. He's not representing our will, so we're just asking him to leave us alone," Plunk, a patient herself, told the Indy.
Mayor Suthers couldn't be reached for comment on this story, but has recently expressed his desire to do away with home grows altogether. In an ominous May 28 Gazette article, he said to expect a string of busts in the Springs much like in Pueblo, where the Sheriff's Department and federal DEA agents have raided 23 home grows and arrested 35 people since the end of March. Those were allegedly large-scale operations trafficking their product out of state, not legitimate medical caregivers, but nonetheless provided fodder for both the Springs' new plant limit and the initiative to ban retail pot in Pueblo — moves that advocates say affect law-abiding citizens, not the criminal element.
That's why passing cars were as much the target audience for the June 2 demonstration as were the government officials.
"People sometimes say to me, 'Oh, you're in Colorado, don't you have it good?'" Plunk continued. "And I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?'"
Mimi Friedman, a 33-year-old cannabis refugee from Ohio, said that she and her husband, also a patient, moved here for safe access to their medicine only to discover Colorado Springs was no oasis. If local regulations continue headed this direction, she says they may have to pack up and leave. "This may be the best chance we have to get people's attention," she told the Indy. "Because so many people don't realize what's happening to patients right now."
The road into the Academy saw heavy traffic all morning as the families of more than 800 graduating cadets filled Falcon Stadium. Some cars honked or hollered support, while some made skeptical or disapproving gestures. License plates were from all over the country.
"This is perfect," said Plunk, "because these are the conservative people who we want to know we're not lazy, bummy stoners who can't do anything but smoke pot all day. We're business owners, parents, patients, advocates — busy people."
Inside the gates, President Obama talked of military might in the 21st century. Unsurprisingly, he did not discuss whether his administration might resolve the current tension between state and federal drug laws before leaving office. A decision on whether to remove marijuana from Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act will come out of the Drug Enforcement Administration by July.
So come back to CannaBiz next week to get a sense of marijuana's history in the most controlled and criminalized category of substances, and how that chapter may soon come to a close. The "how" is crucial, as the difference between rescheduling and descheduling cannabis would have far-reaching ramifications for Colorado's nascent regulatory system.
Long seen as drug policy reformers' bread and butter, some activists now say there's a way that changing marijuana's classification would be akin to a death sentence.