The La Plata County commissioners were correct Monday not to cap the number of retail marijuana shops allowed in unincorporated parts of the county. They were likewise right not to restrict the number of applications the county would accept every year.
Both proposals were in response to nonexistent problems.
Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. (They approved medical marijuana in 2000.) And in the year since, too many government officials have imagined too many problems with implementing that simple result. None of those worries is real.
The concern expressed by the county’s staff Monday seemed to be that they will be overwhelmed with people wanting to sell pot on every corner. But there is no reason to think that is true.
What with Woodstock, “Reefer Madness” and the war on drugs, for some marijuana may have an exotic or dangerous air to it. In the end, though, it is a commodity and will respond to market forces.
Commissioner Julie Westendorff got that part. “I don’t see why we would expect to have more than a handful of retail marijuana outlets,” she said “The bottom line is, there’s a finite market.”
Exactly. And the fact that it is now legal will not cause a spike in demand. The simple truth is that pretty much everybody who really wants marijuana already has it – and has for a long time.
That Colorado voters chose to legalize recreational marijuana was not an endorsement of smoking pot. As an electoral statement it was somewhere between a shrug, a yawn and a plea to be done with this. Except for dedicated drug warriors, fearful public officials and, of course, serious stoners, marijuana has not been especially interesting to the American public for a generation or two.
Marijuana has been around forever. At least one version of the signature song of the Mexican Revolution of a century ago included a line about not having any marijuana to smoke. Pot entered the American mainstream in the 1960s and has been there ever since. And everybody knows it. What the voters expressed last year was the desire to move on.
Nonetheless, officials keep worrying and trying to figure out safeguards to protect someone or something. Bayfield and Ignacio both enacted permanent bans of marijuana stores and the county commissioners went along with the joke by expressing support for 3-mile pot-store-free perimeters around both towns. That would be about five minutes if one must first find the car keys.
There was even talk of a “buffer” near the New Mexico border, although all concerned recognized that would have little practical effect. As with so many concerns surrounding legalization, fears of “marijuana tourism” seem overblown. Most people in other states who want it can find marijuana right where they are. But if they want to come to Colorado to buy it legally, why not? We can sell them a T-shirt at the same time.
A 1,000-foot buffer around schools, day care centers and substance abuse treatment facilities was well received by the commissioners, and rightly so. Nobody in those places needs to be shown or reminded that some folks think getting high is just fine.
And there are legitimate concerns about the safety of commercial grow operations in residential homes. But then perhaps commercial operations should be limited to commercial areas.
Still, the commissioners seem to get it that much of the fretting over legalized marijuana is unwarranted. As Commissioner Bobby Lieb said, “In five years or less, you’re going to see the majority of states in the United States legalize marijuana.”
Maybe then we can worry about something else.