(Part 2 on the battle to keep retail marijuana out of communities.) Colorado has become the butt of the jokes from late night talk show hosts. Some have gone so as to call it the vacation destination of “stoners” across America.
In the past, Colorado had been known mainly for its sporting activities and natural beauty. “I think that [health and wellness] is a better thing for us to promote. It seems a little hypocritical, regardless of what side of the argument you want to take. There’s a lot of evidence out there that this [marijuana] may not be the greatest thing for you,” Tim Haas told me as we discussed Colorado tourism.
Haas is struggling with the problem in Manitou Springs, as our last article detailed. Isn’t growing up to be a healthy, high functioning human being the message worth promoting to young children of Colorado? It’s time to let Colorado communities — rather than marijuana businesses that are expanding throughout the state — to decide what is best for their individual communities.
South to Pueblo West
An hour’s drive south of Manitou Springs, the Pueblo West Metropolitan District is fighting a similar battle. The community of Pueblo West has been struggling with the growing number of businesses selling, growing, cultivating, or producing marijuana-infused products. The metropolitan district is already credited to having 6 recreational dispensaries, with, what seems, a new rush of marijuana licenses on the way.
When medicinal and then recreational marijuana were legalized in Pueblo County, the county created a land use code that limited stores to property zoned for specific retail uses. The result was the zoning protected Pueblo City, with limited zoning, and Pueblo West, with far more retail zoning, became the place to open shop.
“The result is businesses looking for spaces found a lot more zoned in Pueblo West than a lot of other places in the county,” Commissioner Sal Pace said. “It was an unintended consequence.” Pueblo West doesn’t want the stores, but the community of about 35,000 is stuck with them. That’s what the resolution ended with, that acknowledgement.
While unintended, it’s nonetheless a consequence. In the minutes of a Pueblo West Metropolitan District meeting on July 8, 2014, Sheriff Kirk Taylor for Pueblo County is recorded as saying, that he “does not think the citizens of this community have weighed in on the issue. There have been over 100 municipalities and counties that have opted out [of marijuana retailers in their areas]. The community of Pueblo County never got an opportunity to opt out. Three commissioners decided it was good for us and they started giving out licenses, and in his opinion this is wrong.” In other words Pueblo West doesn’t want the stores it has, but the city is stuck with them.
Pueblo for Positive Impact(PfPI) Founder and Leader, Paula McPheeters, has been working diligently to make sure someone is standing up and speaking out for the community. “What we want is control of our own destiny for economic development and or the future. And we know there is way more to Pueblo West than just the marijuana industry,” said McPheeters.
Later in July, the Pueblo West Metropolitan Board finally heard its constituents and voted in favor 5-0 of a new resolution asking that the county not permit any new licensing of any additional marijuana-related facilities or operations. The resolution was passed shortly after being edited to remove a moratorium on pot shops. So while the community would still like to see the shops go somewhere else, they are still protected by the local Metropolitan Board.
The County Commissioner’s Board is beginning to feel the heat, as well, now that the local Metropolitan Board is being called to accurately represent Pueblo West’s desire to end the addition of any more pot shops in its community. Also putting on the pressure at the County Commissioner’s Board meetings are those representing the big business behind the marijuana industry, leaving many community members wondering who their local legislators are really listening to—the people who live in their communities and voted them in, or the profiteers looking to attract pot smokers.
These Coloradans aren’t arguing whether or not they think that pot should or should not be legal, it’s about community members deciding what’s best for them and their families.
Colorado used to be the state of the Olympic Committee, one of the healthiest populations in America, known for its hiking and skiing, and its beautiful landscapes. Communities that don’t want to be a part of the pot community and this new stereotype have the right to do so. Coloradans are now fighting for their right to not raise their children surrounded by pot shops and marijuana grows.
(Part 1 on the battle to keep retail marijuana out of communities.) Colorado’s image as a healthy place to escape smoke and pollution is under attack at its core. Denver is not the only place where marijuana businesses are threatening the state’s image as place to pursue healthy activities.
Since its establishment in 1872, visitors have been flocking to Manitou Springs for the fresh mountain air, for rigorous hiking and for its healing waters. Manitou Springs is a darling community, founded upon the quest for healthiness, and community. It is seated at the base of Pikes Peak, just outside of Colorado Springs. Tourists may stop at several different natural springs of carbonated drinking water, each toting a distinct mineral content.
The city is also a great destination for families. The Manitou Springs Penny Arcade and unique shops entertain the town’s guests before and after their exploration of Pikes Peak and the famous Incline. The historic center is on the National Register of Historic Places. Historical buildings are colorfully painted and restored, and the homes that perch upon the mountainside are unique to this area. Manitou Cliff Dwelling is about five miles away.
Behind this lovely foreground is a community going to battle against the big business of marijuana. Since the approval of Amendment 64 in Colorado, legalizing marijuana, Manitou Springs has seen several medicinal marijuana dispensaries open their doors. On August 1, 2014, Maggie’s Farm opened its doors as the first recreational marijuana retailer in their community.
Under Section 5(f), Regulation of Marijuana, Amendment 64 states:
A LOCALITY MAY PROHIBIT THE OPERATION OF MARIJUANA CULTIVATION FACILITIES, MARIJUANA PRODUCT MANUFACTURING FACILITIES, MARIJUANA TESTING FACILITIES, OR RETAIL MARIJUANA STORES THROUGH THE ENACTMENT OF AN ORDINANCE OR THROUGH AN INITIATED OR REFERRED MEASURE; PROVIDED, ANY INITIATED OR REFERRED MEASURE TO PROHIBIT THE OPERATION OF MARIJUANA CULTIVATION FACILITIES, MARIJUANA PRODUCT MANUFACTURING FACILITIES, MARIJUANA TESTING FACILITIES, OR RETAIL MARIJUANA STORES MUST APPEAR ON A GENERAL ELECTION BALLOT DURING AN EVEN NUMBERED YEAR.
Many communities are saying that they were not asked to vote on having marijuana retailers in their community. They disagree with those who claim that when a majority of voters in community supported Amendment 64, it signaled agreement to have marijuana retailers in that community. Had residents known this would be the interpretation, many say they would have voted differently.
The group, No Retail Marijuana in Manitou Springs (NRMMS) came to life after the Manitou Springs City Council decided on January 21st to permit retail sale of marijuana, despite the majority of residents’ objections. It didn’t take long after the vote for local marijuana businesses to take action. The construction of Maggie’s Farm, a recreational marijuana retailer found in multiple Colorado cities, began in Manitou in May and opened its doors on August 1st. Another dispensary, Reserve 1, distributing medicinal marijuana, received a license to sell the drug for recreational use. It is currently looking for a larger space to expand its operation.
Many community members have voiced opposition to the City Council’s decision. Tim Haas, Treasurer of NRMMS and local business owner, says that one of the major concerns of allowing marijuana retailers in Manitou Springs is the large number of pot smokers from neighboring communities that will flock to Manitou for their recreational fix. Colorado Springs with a population just under 432,000 is but a mere 15-minute drive away from Manitou. In July 2013, Colorado Springs’ City Council voted to ban recreational marijuana stores with a narrow vote of 5-4, meaning Manitou Springs is now a close and convenient source of marijuana for those without a prescription.
It’s not only a question of increasing road traffic, but also people traffic. Manitou Springs’ population of homeless seems to have risen in the last few years. The anecdotal evidence is the appearance of an increasing number of young people gathering on the corner, sometimes smoking pot openly. It alters the feeling of the friendly town. Though many of the young and old homeless and panhandlers who congregate at the circle on Manitou Ave. are harmless, the question of safety may cross their minds of tourists who come to the area. Since the passing of Amendment 64, the Colorado cities of Denver and Colorado Springs have reported a large influx of homeless youth; many stating they are in Colorado for the weed, and it seems safe to say that Manitou may see the same ripple effect.
With some of these negative side effects becoming apparent, Haas, as a parent, is concerned. He has chosen for his children to attend the Manitou Springs’ schools, coming in from a neighboring town.
What might happen if parents begin to perceive Manitou Springs as a center for recreational marijuana? A large percentage of Manitou’s High schoolers are “choiced” in, meaning that if parents change their minds based on the reality, or purely their own perception, of what is going on in Manitou, the local schools could lose money. Just losing 20% of the students would be enough financial cause for the schools to have to cut teachers and the other students would be left to face the consequences.
NRMMS created the petition to ban retail marijuana shops from the Manitou Springs community shortly after the City Council’s vote. The group gathered 593 signatures, 465 being certified, almost double the required number of 275 certified signatures — 15 percent of the number of voters in the last general election (1,833). The question will appear on the November 4th ballot allowing voters to decide if the current ordinance should be upheld, or overturned, banning retail marijuana establishments in the city of Manitou Springs. At least two groups are working together to ban the marijuana shops in Manitou Springs, Don’t Let Manitou Go to Pot and People Against Retail Marijuana in Manitou Springs.
Resident voters will receive their ballots by mail on October 16. They should be returned no later than November 4. Voters who did not participate in the last election may need to update their voter status and request a ballot. For more information or to check your voter status in Manitou Springs, please visit the Manitou Springs City website. Voters wishing to ban the stores should vote YES on the marijuana retail ballot question. The Colorado Springs Gazette endorses a Yes vote on 2G. Former Mayor Marcy Morrison recently wrote this opinion piece in the Gazette.
Another consequence of changing a public policy to benefit the 6- 7% of adults who use marijuana is the slew of hash oil explosions which have occurred this year. Making BHO, butane hash oil is a relatively easy, but dangerous, process.
Did anyone figure ambulances, fire fighters and emergency medical care into the cost of legalizing marijuana? Voters in Oregon, Alaska, Washington, DC, and two cities, Lewiston and South Portland, Maine, need to think of possible consequences before legalizing another dangerous drug. States considering medical marijuana also need to factor in the legality of making BHO, and the cost for public services when the fires occur.
Downloadable Fact Sheet
Get the Parents Opposed to Pot Hash Oil Facts! Download our new flyer, which describes the hash oil explosions in states which have permissive marijuana laws: POPPOT-Hash Oil Statistics.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called a meeting last week to pass an ordinance that would restrict unlicensed amateurs using flammables to process marijuana. There have been 8 blasts in the city of Denver this year, and 31 in the state. After an objection was voiced at the meeting on September 15, the discussion was tabled.
Congress made a huge mistake, when on May 30, the House of Representatives voted not to allow Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) funds to be used to investigate federal violations in states with medical marijuana.
Like passing child protection laws, or keeping the marijuana businesses out of communities, it seems impossible to pass any restrictions which might stop marijuana consumption, commerce or expansion in Colorado. (Marijuana has caused three non-traffic deaths in Colorado this year: one incidence of child neglect in January and two deaths from potent edibles, in March and April.)
The marijuana industry told voters marijuana is “safer than alcohol,” but the social and public service costs must be staggering by now. The fires and explosions are increasing, because extracting hash oil from marijuana has become more popular. The promised tax revenues from marijuana are much lower than was projected, and black markets still thrive.
Butane hash oil must be made in an open or well-ventilated area. If the butane sparks something else, explosions can occur. What makes it dangerous is that butane is highly flammable, sensitive to heaters, pilot lights, electric cords, a cigarette or the slightest spark of a match.
Of the 31 hash oil explosions that had occurred in Colorado by early May this year, 21 involved injuries and 10 of those suffered from major burns requiring extensive treatment. In the previous year, there were 11 such explosions in the state, with 11 people treated for burns. According to an official of the state’s burn center, at University of Colorado’s burn unit, the first explosionoccurred in 2012. Most victims are males in their 20s and 30s.
A request to search the records of Oregon’s only burn center over a 16- month period showed that 17 people were treated for butane hash oil burns, including two residents of southwest Washington. A 12-year old girl sustained broken bones after jumping from the 2nd floor, to escape a Medford, Oregon, hash oil fire last November.
In California, during a 14- month period from 2013 to early 2014, 27 people were treated for hash oil burns in one Northern California burn unit, 17 in southern California centers. In California, it’s legal for medical marijuana patients to use or buy the hash oil, but illegal for amateurs to make it. We have written previously of the children endangered by theses blasts.
Fortunately, no one has died in Colorado from BHO-explosions, though some people have sustained horrible burns.
As far as state law goes, making the hash oil in a home is perfectly legal in Colorado, as reported on ABC7 News. Charges of arson or child endangerment can be filed, however, when there is property damage, others are put in danger, or children are nearby.
Homes, Apartments and Property Damage
Federal District Attorneys in Washington, California and Oregon have been excessively slow in response to the explosions, despite the extensive damage to property, deaths and injuries to others. The explosions began 2-3 years ago on the West Coast, but it is only in the last few months that the Department of Justice appears to have decided that action is necessary.
Last weekend the Los Angelos Times reported 20 butane hash oil explosions in San Diego County, alone, within the year. There was $1.2 million of damage to an apartment building in San Diego last January. The explosions have occurred from New England to Florida, and from to British Columbia to Arizona.
In May, the Oregonian ran a series of online articlesabout BHO (butane hash oil), detailing the hows and whys of making it, and the explosions. It has only become popular in the last 3 years.
On July 22, 2014, the US attorney in western Washington filed charges against seven people, mainly for “endangering human life while manufacturing controlled substances.” The individuals caused fires or explosions in Seattle, Puyallup, Kirkland and Bellevue. The Bellevue fire caused a massive explosion to an apartment complex, $1.5 million in damages, and killed a former mayor of Bellevue. During this occurrence, two women experienced multiple fractures, having jumped from second- and third-floor windows to escape flames.
One of those facing federal charges in Puyallup, Washington, was making the hash oil for a marijuana edibles. He’s the owner of an edibles’ company, “Capn Cosmics.” Additionally, he’s charged with endangering the life of a 14-month old child.
The District Attorney in Washington asserts that the actions are illegal, because they cause harm to others and to property, although in the past officials found issues of legality hazy in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
On July 29 in Tigard, Oregon, a parking lot explosion injured one and destroyed or damaged five motor vehicles. A grand juryindicted a California man for knowingly and intentionally creating a substantial risk of harm to human life in connection materials exploded, and for manufacturing marijuana. It’s thought to be the first time the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon has filed charges in connection with a hash oil explosion.
State regulations in California and Colorado haven’t stopped the explosions. California doesn’t allow medi-pot patients to produce BHO, while Oregon and Washington’s medical pot programs don’t regulate BHO. Colorado and Washington require BHO to be tested for residual butane before being placed on dispensary shelves.
Why is Hash Oil Popular?
Marijuana users are looking for the quicker, faster high—even though they think marijuana is not addictive. Yet, there are great psychological risks, too, and some users have had psychotic episodes from using this potent substance.
For sellers, it’s an easy way to make large profits. However, making it at home is so much cheaper, and it’s gaining popularity.
There are plenty of YouTube videos and other online instructions for amateurs to follow. Makers begin by putting cannabis leaves and flowers in an extraction tube, like a pipe. They then put the colorless, odorless butane in that small area to extract the THC quickly, letting it fall through a small filter on bottom. Spraying with butane is called blasting the marijuana, which pulls the THC right out of it.
Problems are most likely to occur indoors or when there is not good ventilation.
The solvent or butane must be flushed out. It can be boiled off in a hot water bath, which is why some home producers use hot baths or double boilers. Many commercial enterprises have the butane pumped out with a vacuum vacuum chamber to lower butane’s boiling point, pulling butane from the oil.
The result is a hash oil which looks like honey. It’s like the crack cocaine of marijuana. The THC content can be 70 to 85 percent, while the average joint may be 20 to 25 percent THC. After cooling, the oil hardens and is broken into bits. Sometimes the explosions occur in the cooling process, as when the refrigerator door blew off in Manitou Springs.
There are many nicknames for butane hash oil: “Wax,” “Honey oil,” “earwax,” “dabs” “shatter” and more. It could be smoked, vaped or infused into the edibles. Vaping is a concern, since the vape pens are the e-cigarettes of marijuana. It is a way that teens may be using marijuana without detection.
In short, hash oil offers a quick and lasting high for users. A single hit can last more than a day. By making it, it costs a user about 50% less than it would by buying it from a licensed dispensary or maker.
“Mass incapacitation of blacks instead of mass incarceration.” Judge Arthur Burnett, National Executive Director of National African American Drug Policy Coalition, was describing how he views marijuana legalization, at a meeting this summer which pre-dated the formation of Two is Enough D.C.
Two Is Enough D.C. (TIED.C.) officially registered September 23 as the No on 71 campaign — signaling the opposition to legalizing marijuana in Washington, DC. TIED.C. announced its formation on Wednesday, September 17, with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy giving an introductory speech. The group urges the voters of Washington, DC, not to approve Initiative 71 on November 4, 2014.
The grass-roots campaign is another example of David vs. Goliath. Initiative 71 has received more than $200,000. David Bronner, a Californian, jump-started the campaign to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia. After the campaign gathered more 57,000 signatures, DC Board of Elections approved the Initiative in August. Though Initiative 71 concerns private possession and usage, the city council would be able to commercialize marijuana. City council currently is considering a bill to tax and regulate marijuana. However, in the states that have legalized it, the black market remains and taxes have been far below expectations.
“We have seen the negative impact of tobacco and alcohol on our youth, families and communities,” Will Jones III, founder of Tiedc, said. Companies that produce these two legal drugs have disproportionately targeted and affected communities of color. “With the costs in health care, education, accidents, lost productivity and law enforcement as a result of substance use, Washington, DC cannot afford a third legal drug. Thus, we declare that ‘Two is enough’ and urge our fellow citizens to do the same by voting NO on Initiative 71.”
Judge Burnett spoke at the Press Conference, along with Will Jones, representing the millennial generation. They were joined by other community representatives who gave forceful speeches: Dorothy Armstead, retired schoolteacher; Dr. William B. Lawson, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Howard University; Pastor Ronald L. Demery of Bible Way Church in Washington, DC., a local civil rights leader; Kathy Henderson, Realtor, parent, and elected representative for ANC 5D05; Ambrose Lane, Founder of Ward 7 Health Alliance Network and President and CEO of Washington East Development Alliance (WEDA) and founder of ; and Andre Murphy, who is in the process of making a film, with Bernard Howard, who spoke of his struggle to overcome addiction.
The speakers agreed that legalizing marijuana will mean more youth access to it, more drug addiction and the problems that go with it. Increased use at younger ages also means more school dropouts and fewer children who are able to complete schooling and get jobs. Under the initiative, the city council could allow commercialization which would then open the door to dangerous edibles, known to trick children and others with appealing packages.
Health and Biology
“Even if you don’t smoke marijuana now, you will be smoking it.” Kathy Henderson said at a community planning meeting opposed to legalization.
“Since decriminalization, marijuana smoke is everywhere. People smoke on their porches and you can’t get away from it.” Currently the maximum fine for smoking marijuana is $25 and police do not bother to ticket. This de-facto legalization of marijuana in the nation’s capital means that it carries a fine less than the $75 charged for littering and less than the $50 for under-age tobacco smoking.
Ms. Henderson, who received her undergraduate training in Biology, understands the dangers of marijuana from a health and public safety perspective, as well as from the perspective of a parent. Other speakers have seen it all.
Dr. Lawson, in addition to his position at Howard University, is President of the DC Chapter of Mental Health America, past President of the Washington Psychiatric Society, past President of the Black Psychiatrists of America. He received the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Exemplary Psychiatrist Award and the Multicultural Workplace Award from the Veterans Administration for the advancement of diversity and multicultural understanding. Twice Dr. Lawson was named one of America’s Leading Black Doctors by Black Enterprise Magazine. He is an author of over 170 publications.
Speakers’ Vast Public Policy Expertise
Other speakers at the Press Conference are experts in public policy and community organizing. Representative Patrick Kennedy, son of former Senator Ted Kennedy and nephew of President Kennedy, served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is known as the author and lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. The dramatic legislation provides millions of Americans who were previously denied care with access to mental health treatment. He is a co-founder of Project SAM, which supports an alternative policy for marijuana, neither legalization or incarceration. As a mental health advocate, Kennedy stands strongly against marijuana legalization. He says it increases “permissiveness for a drug that directly contributes to mental illness.”
Judge Burnett, in addition to being National Executive Director of the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc., was senior judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He was appointed the first African-American United States Magistrate in the United States, was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, was a Chair of the National Bar Association Juvenile Justice Task Force and a Chair of its Juvenile Justice Committee. Judge Burnett has about 40 years of experience as a judge and recalls some of the worst cases of domestic violence and child abuse that arose from drug use and alcohol.
Ambrose Lane is also a policy specialist, and a community organizer. Among his many community leadership positions, he has been Director of DC Circle of Hope Violence Prevention City-Wide Project and the Founder, Principal organizer of DC Youth Advisory Council (DCYAC).
Pastor Demery organized a “no ticket” Gospel concert in June of this year, with hopes to increase public awareness of the dangers of policies that increase marijuana access and the resulting risk of “naive” initiation into life-long drug use and addiction. Last September he hosted a Conference: No Access, No Use.
The disparities in the criminal justice and larger issues of racism in the United States were brought up by some of the speakers. “However, drug arrests are only one factor in the larger issues of racism and disparities in the criminal justice system. It is wrong to think that legalizing marijuana would make a dent in these larger problems,” Will Jones concluded. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a downward trend in the rate of incarceration in federal prisons, following the release of non-violent drug offenders.
Though some voters may think Initiative 71 only covers private possession, with an individuals allowed two ounces or to grow up to six plants. The city council at any time could vote to allow commercial sales of marijuana.
A recent problem is BHO explosions. It would be difficult to stop and control the making of BHO, butane hash oil. The fire departments, hospital emergency rooms and ambulances of Colorado, California and Washington have become overburdened with a rash of butane hash oil explosions, and this activity would be totally legitimate if Initiative 71 passes. Despite eight explosions in Denver and 31 in Colorado this year, the city of Denver has had difficulty passing laws to change the situation.