Thursday, August 19, 2010

MMJ debate: It takes four to tango

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 11:58 AM

Update, 5:19 p.m.: KOAA has posted video of the 61-minute debate here.

— — —

The medical marijuana center discussion among City Councilors Tom Gallagher and Sean Paige, and state Rep. Mark Waller and District Attorney Dan May technically began at 7 last night. However, the conversation didn't really start until some 20 minutes in, when the district attorney finished delivering his litany of marijuana-related horrors — some MMJ-related, most not — and Paige spoke.

Gallagher and Paige. Click to enlarge.
  • Bryce Crawford
  • Gallagher and Paige. Click to enlarge.

"How many drunk driving cases do you prosecute every year?" Paige asked May. "You came to us at City Council once and said there were three murders related to marijuana, suggesting it was medical marijuana. And when I asked you point blank, 'Is it medical marijuana, or just marijuana?' it wasn’t [medical marijuana]. So sometimes I’m a little wary of these statistics.”

And so it sometimes went Wednesday night, as roughly 100 people — whom moderator Rob Quirk was frequently compelled to quiet — filled the Carnegie Room at the downtown Penrose Library.

Rep. Waller started the night with his main argument: Let's vote.

"It doesn’t matter at all what I think here about [the caregiver definition] tonight," the rep said. "And it doesn’t matter because we need to go back to community and we need to ask the community what they meant when the approved the caregiver model in Amendment 20. And the way we do that is by putting this ban issue to a vote of the people.”

The back-and-forth continued with questions from News First 5's James Jarman and the Gazette's Daniel Chacón, as well as several from readers. One such was: Where will the money to the city go? Gallagher said it will be all be going to the general fund, for whatever that's worth.

Waller and May. Click to enlarge.
  • Bryce Crawford
  • Waller and May. Click to enlarge.

“The sales-tax piece of this is the tiny piece," Gallagher said. "Everybody seems to think that’s what we’re in it for. No, we make our real money in the building permits and inspections.

"But the huge wins here are in the electricians, in the carpenters and the heavy-equipment operators, and the masons, and retail stores that sell light bulbs, and all the jobs this is creating.”

And regarding the allegedly MMJ-related crimes that May talked up?

“I can make up statistics all day long to illustrate those points. Let’s talk about the issues," Gallagher said. "Where is the crime? My police chief can’t report it.

"There is crime in the vicinity of medical marijuana. That doesn’t mean that the crime was related. Show me the facts — my police can’t find it."

(See our story on MMJ-related crime, wherein CSPD spokesman Sgt. Steve Noblitt tells our Pam Zubeck, "Looking at the data, it doesn't appear to be a crime wave to me.")

Things turned interesting later in the night, when the DA warned that as he interprets the state bill, commercial kitchens manufacturing infused products would not be inspected by the health department. Gallagher found the notion ridiculous.

“What a scathing indictment of the El Paso County Health Department, that they won’t inspect commercial kitchens. Anybody go to a restaurant?" Gallagher asked. "Our health department inspects commercial kitchens in this county, and I find it amazing that a county-elected official would do just such a scathing indictment.”

In closing, Dan May summed up the anti-MMCs' position with a familiar refrain:

"We are built on a democracy. The fundamental right to vote is one of the most significant things you can have. I’m asking the City Council to let us vote. I’m asking the commissioners, 'Let us vote.' Why? Because we live in a democracy.”

After the debate, May defended his use of statistics by saying they can only be anecdotal, as there's not enough local evidence. He then said, somewhat unintentionally ironically:

"It will be a while before we can get to the point that statistics really mean something."

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