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Seeds of change in Victor 

After the vote, 54-year-old Joe Stevens descends the dark staircase, walks out the door, and takes a seat on a creaky wooden bench under a streetlight's yellow pool.

Nights in Victor are shivering cold; the mountain sky's taken on a deep indigo.

But Stevens sits calm as a sleeping cat, wearing pants, a long-sleeved shirt, ball cap and a wild, bushy beard. With his cane leaning against his knees, he looks almost like a ghost, perhaps one of the gold miners lost in nearby glory holes a century ago.

In reality, Stevens has only called this place home for the past 12 years. Before that, he worked elsewhere, in collections for Citibank. Life was good — until he started getting sick. He left his job and went on disability in 1993.

Stevens doesn't talk much about his health problems, which range from a faulty digestive tract to severe back problems and a blood disease. But one thing's for certain: Marijuana helps him deal with all of it.

And so tonight, April 22, Stevens has a special reason to linger in front of the giant red brick body of City Hall. Tonight, a big victory happened in little Victor. After months of negotiations and compromise, Victor's City Council gave its blessing to medical marijuana dispensaries, setting up fees and regulations to keep them in check.

Across the state, communities are asking the same questions: What's morally right? What's legally right? What's right for the kids? What's right for the patients?

The questions have stumped Colorado Springs so far. Hell, they've stumped the state Legislature. But here, in a picturesque town of 455 people — a town often seen as the scruffy little sister of high-stakes Cripple Creek — folks worked it out.

At the final vote, four Councilors voted for the marijuana ordinance, one against. But even the single detractor, Councilor Don Daniel, just shrugged afterward. He's not sure all this pot business will be good for tourism, and he doesn't think it's a great message for children, but, well ... it'll be OK.

"The only thing I resent is newcomers come in and they want to make it like their hometown, and I like it the way it is," the 18-year resident said.

But, he added, "When the vote's over, you move onto the next issue. That's why we [Councilors] get along."

Apparently, most people agree. In fact, about half the meeting's attendees are already hot-trotting it for the Lucky Buck, the town's only public bar.

Small town, big issue

In Victor, people like to gossip. When the gossip runs dry, they talk about elk hunting, four-wheeling, and big events like the Teller County Fair, Gold Rush Days and Victor Celebrates the Arts.

Then there's Kathryn Chandler. Petite and fiery with an outsized laugh and neon green Doc Martens, the 49-year-old doesn't exactly "blend" into the small-town culture.

She had Obama-mania in 2008. She's no fan of a proposed gun club that might bring strangers with high-powered weapons to the outskirts of town. And in a community founded by miners, a place where the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Co. is still one of the biggest employers, Chandler will tell you loud as she pleases that she hates all that damn blasting.

It's not just her opinions that have caused a stir lately. Chandler, who owns and runs Victor's Splendid Treasures antique shop, realized recently that she needed a side business to bring in a little extra cash. And, yes, yes, she did consider serving tea and sandwiches, or opening a small grocery.

But she settled on pot, saying the move wasn't meant to be provocative.

Chandler lost her brother to cancer when he was 28. Before he died, Chandler remembers, he vomited every 10 minutes. Watching his suffering was so unbearable that Chandler's mother went to the roughest area in Minneapolis and returned with a bag of marijuana, hopeful it would help her son.

"It was a tough, tough neighborhood, and my mother was so convinced that this would help him, that she went down there and bought it," Kathryn says, shaking her head. "Street drugs!"

When Chandler's mother got cancer, she also used marijuana. She died a couple years ago.

Chandler says a lot of sick people move to Victor for the peace. Many of her friends have cancer, and many use pot, too. But things are easier now than when her mom had to risk life and limb for a baggie.

"It's legal now," Chandler says with relief. "Nobody has to do that anymore."

Cue the Apothecary

Phantom Canyon Apothecary will be housed in a small room in the back of Chandler's antique shop.

It's bright green with Chandler's favorite quotations painted in purple on the walls. A silver antique medicine chest full of glass jars awaits product in a corner. In addition to the obvious wares, Chandler plans to offer oddball accessories like a Bakelite cigarette case, an ashtray from the 1800s and many an art deco lighter.

Under Victor's new law, dispensaries — and two are planned for Victor, including Chandler's — can open in July.

The new law is quite thorough. It only allows one dispensary per block, and then only in a specified commercial zone. They must meet security requirements, keep good records, and limit their daily sales. The new law will also require dispensaries to pay $4,075 in start-up fees to the town.

Reaching agreement on the ordinance was an arduous process, requiring weekly meetings for four months. But, City Councilor Diana Bowman said after the ordinance was approved, it helps that everyone knows everyone else in Victor.

"People know their character," she said, throwing a knowing smile toward Chandler.

Eventually, through cooperation, the town came up with something almost everyone could agree on. Councilor Mike Wallace, for instance, originally voted against the ordinance, but later changed his vote.

"I was conflicted," he says. "Victor has a reputation of being a place where druggies can come and hang out. We had a meth lab."

But eventually, Wallace thought that trying to stop medical marijuana was akin to Prohibition — pointless. It was going to come one way or the other, and it was better to control it. Besides, he says, he likes Chandler.

In the bar

After the ordinance passes, Bowman, Chandler and about seven others gather around an old wood table at the bar under a giant moose head that is, according to a plaque, named "Dave."

There's a lot of laughter as people drink their beers, munch cheese bread and share baskets of fries. Folks scrap over politics, and wonder aloud whatever happened to the perpetrator of Victor's last big crime. (A mentally unstable Victor cop went ballistic last year and shot up his apartment.) A few people do get into a heated debate over that gun club, but in the end, they just shrug, smile and order another beer.

Longtime residents will tell you things used to be different. People fought over everything. Resentments ran high. And then this new Council came in and started setting a new tone of respect, a live-and-let-live attitude. And that's caught on.

Now, it really feels like things are getting done, they say. Buildings are being remodeled. A new agricultural and mining museum is opening. And there's a regional economic effort afoot with real momentum.

And then there's this medical marijuana thing.

Sure, a few people still shake their heads at the idea of it. But these days, most people seem willing to put on a brave face and see what happens before they go pointing fingers.

"Change is scary," Chandler says sympathetically. "Change is always scary. It's scary for me."

But for now, at least, the town of Victor seems willing to face the uncertainty together.

stanley@csindy.com

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