Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series.
EAGLE COUNTY — Jamie Arellano loves to consume cannabis. The drug is a part of his life.
Arellano, 32, has been focused on what’s happening with marijuana laws in Colorado. He’s thrilled that voters legalized recreational use of the drug last November, but he’s now worried that municipalities are going to wrongly ban recreational marijuana businesses against the will of the voters.
Arellano compares marijuana to an herbal tea.
“It’s probably the most varied plant on Earth,” Arellano says.
Arellano, of Avon, writes software for a living. He has found a way to incorporate marijuana into his job — his software development company is aptly called Danktek. He’s currently creating a mobile application on the Android platform that tracks everything from marijuana laws to a marijuana plant’s grow cycle.
He thinks that access to marijuana should be easier than alcohol. He uses tourists as an example of why alcohol is dangerous. People travel to the mountains from sea level and drink alcohol at 8,000 feet or higher and easily become incoherently drunk, he said.
“To have a safer alternative like marijuana — I don’t even think it’s debatable,” Arellano says. “You’re still cognitive (on marijuana). … It’s not like being drunk to where you lose cognition, where you can’t make decisions.”
It’s an argument often made by marijuana users, who want to ease fears that legalization of the drug in Colorado is going to wreak havoc on society. They point to statistics about alcohol-related accidents and deaths, and they almost always tout that marijuana is natural.
“Cannabis helps so many ailments,” Arellano says. “I’m passionate about it.”
Arellano is one of 109,622 people in the state with a valid medical marijuana card. He has suffered from anxiety and has taken antidepressants in the past, but nothing heals his symptoms like marijuana, he said.
Medicinal and recreational users have won a lot of battles in the state of Colorado in recent years. An uphill battle ensued in 2000 when voters legalized medical marijuana, but laws limiting how many patients a so-called caretaker or grower could serve prevented marijuana businesses from opening. That all changed in 2009 when the limit was lifted, paving the way for Colorado’s “Green Rush.”
With last year’s passing of Amendment 64, state and local officials are facing new uncertainties about Colorado’s future. The state issued permanent rules Sept. 9 related to its new Colorado Retail Marijuana Code. The 144-page document details a lot, but there are holes in the rules that municipalities will have to figure out how to legislate.
The state legislation, for example, doesn’t define “open and public,” even though the law states that marijuana cannot be consumed openly or publicly. The Colorado Municipal League is advising its member to consider defining “open and public” in municipal codes.
Colorado residents will also vote this November on Proposition AA, which will ask if the state can impose a 15 percent excises tax on wholesale marijuana when it’s first sold, plus a 10 percent state sales tax on retail marijuana products — that’s in addition to the existing 2.9 percent state sales tax and in addition to new sales taxes imposed by municipalities through more elections.
The town of Red Cliff is one of such towns. Mayor Scott Burgess told the Vail Daily the town needs any revenue source it can find. The town is asking Red Cliff voters to approve a 5 percent sales tax for retail marijuana, which would be in addition to the town’s 7.4 percent sales tax rate.
Add that to what the state is asking, and marijuana could be so heavily taxed that some dispensary owners — who are currently the only people allowed to apply for retail licenses — think it would only force people into the black market.
Jerry Olson owns Medical Marijuana of the Rockies in Frisco and is in the process of applying for his retail license. He thinks there’s no doubt the excessive taxation will send people to the streets.
And he doesn’t believe any of the revenue will make its way to public school construction, as promised by the state.
“It’s not going to education, it’s going to enforcement — don’t fool yourself,” Olson says. “The only thing they’re going to do with the money is go out and bust everybody.”
Olson plans to open a retail shop in Frisco, but he’s not interested in running a dual medical-recreational business.
“The intention is different,” Olson says. “It doesn’t mix in my opinion.”
To heal or get high?
Olson had his colon removed in 1990 and in 1997 had his second liver transplant. He started using marijuana regularly around 1990 to relax and get high. He then realized that the marijuana was making a significant difference in the way his body handled illness.
After his second liver transplant — in which he only stayed in the hospital for 13 days compared to several months after his first transplant — he knew he wanted to start helping other people.
“I recovered so quickly. I attribute it to a ton of marijuana use,” Olson says. “I was off my pain meds in no time. Pain meds don’t make you want to walk around. Marijuana got me walking and moving.”
Arellano can relate to the pain relief marijuana provides, but he’s more interested in the high. The high is nothing like being drunk.
“I write software for a living — I don’t want to be spacing out,” he says.
But what ticks Arellano off is that there are bars on every corner where people can get drunk, but if he wants to take a puff of weed, he has to search for a place to go. He works from his laptop at a local coffee shop many mornings and people are already drinking, but he has to leave if he wants a hit of marijuana.
“I have to literally go hide in the bushes,” he says. “That’s what needs to change; we need to get rid of the public prohibition.”
The next part in this series focuses on the legal questions still unanswered in anticipation of recreational marijuana businesses opening in 2014, including how law enforcement is dealing with legalized marijuana.