Palisade Farmers Resist Identity as a Marijuana Mecca
By Marjorie Haun | Watchdog Arena
A large swath of farmland in Palisade, Colo., was recently re-zoned by the town’s Board of Trustees and Planning Commission to accommodate a large outdoor medical marijuana growing operation. Palisade, famous for its peaches and vineyards, upheld a citizen-led initiative last November to prohibit commercial marijuana farms and retail operations within its city limits. A group in opposition to the marijuana operation, The Palisade Messengers, recently formed to bring attention to the “hasty” process through which the town’s board of trustees approved the marijuana operation despite the vote just months ago that prohibited such operations.
Although Mesa County, where Palisade is located, banned commercial marijuana shops and farming operations in 2013, the towns within its jurisdiction were left to create their own ordinances. The people of Palisade have been divided over having commercial pot operations within city limits for years.
In 2011, Palisade voted to allow a medicinal marijuana facility, Colorado Alternative Health Care, to do business within the town (At that time, it was required that marijuana growing operations supplying Colorado Alternative Health Care be contiguous with the retail location).
Then in 2014, a referred-measure paving the way for recreational marijuana shops in Palisade was narrowly defeated. Despite the contention erupting over marijuana, the Palisade Board of Trustees, between 2013 and 2015, used its powers to pave the way for the large medicinal marijuana farm now in question.
The ordinances passed by the Palisade Board of Trustees closely coincided with attempts by Brian Cox, a peach farmer involved with Colorado Alternative Health Care and an outspoken supporter of recreational and medical marijuana, to apply his property specifically to the growing of and dispensing of medical marijuana. The Cox property, which is not contiguous with the Colorado Alternative Health Care location, is surrounded by orchards and vineyards, with Interstate 70 running along its northern boundary. According to records, the timeline is as follows:
The Palisade Messengers are beginning an effort to enact recall votes for the Palisade Town Board of Trustees, who, the Messengers believe, did an “end run” around the citizens in order to place a large marijuana operation within city limits. The Palisade Messengers, and the farmers they represent, have noted that the process paving the way for the medical marijuana farm was unusually quick, and that what little input was allowed from opponents, has been virtually ignored.
According to Palisade Messengers member Karen Hays, a Palisade farmer and life-long resident, the issue is not whether there will be a medical marijuana facility within city limits; it is the “hasty” way the Board of Trustees annexed a large parcel of prime orchard and vineyard property knowing that it would be used to grow marijuana. Also at issue is the role of the Mesa Land Trust, which, according to its website, is to “… retain the agricultural heritage, important habitats and beautiful open space that makes Mesa County so unique.”
Karen Hays and others with The Palisade Messengers further worry that allowing marijuana grows to be defined as “agricultural crops,” and the manufacturing of marijuana-infused products to be defined as an “agricultural operation,” sets a bad precedent for the potential misuse of trust lands and conservation easements throughout the state of Colorado.
Conflicting laws also complicate the Palisade marijuana farm issue. The voters of Mesa County instituted a ban on medical marijuana farms and retail stores in 2011. Early in 2013, in the wake of Amendment 64, the Mesa County Board of Commissioners passed an indefinite moratorium on recreational marijuana farms and retail operations as well. Colorado statutes indicate that any form of a marijuana retail outlet or farm must be at least 1,000 feet from public buildings such as schools and churches. Given the relatively small size of Palisade, this also raises questions about the legitimacy of an additional marijuana operation within its city limits.
Questions of water usage also persist. Marijuana is a water-intensive plant and in semi-arid Western Colorado the potential that scarce water resources could be used for a large marijuana operation will almost certainly be problematic. According to federal law, marijuana is still an illegal substance and thus, it’s illegal for federal water resources to be used to grow marijuana. Private, municipal, state, and federal jurisdictions govern Colorado’s complex water laws and it’s possible that directing agricultural water sources to grow marijuana, may itself be illegal.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.
Reposted by the author on 3/10/15