A large crowd attends the second community meeting in Brush to discuss the city's three-year moratorium on marijuana sales and the proposal to grow and sell marijuana at the former High Plains Correctional Facility. (Lisa Jager, Brush News-Tribune)

Pot plan for prison: Town meeting on marijuana moratorium gets tense

Emotions ran high at times at the second community meeting to hear public comments regarding lifting the moratorium on retail marijuana sales and cultivation within the city of Brush.

And it was standing room only for a second time even though the Aug. 18 meeting was held at the Carroll Building which accommodates a larger group than the city council chambers where the last public meeting was held.

The council decided to hold the public meetings after it received a request from businessman Nicholas Erker to consider lifting its current three-year moratorium on any type of marijuana sales. Erker bought the former High Plains Correctional Facility in Brush last spring and would like to turn it into a marijuana cultivation and retail sales facility.

Although the majority of comments were against allowing retail marijuana in Brush, more people spoke for allowing sales than at the first public meeting, while several said they were undecided. Some of the people who spoke against sales were adamantly opposed, their voices heavy with emotion.

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Toward the end of the three-hour meeting Ed Lundstrom spoke against allowing sales, stating that “nobody is for it.”

This remark was followed by an audience member shouting it wasn’t true, followed by another person saying “yes it is.” When Lundstrom was finished speaking, Brush Mayor Chuck Schonberger said that in addition to comments made at the public hearings, the city also has received letters both pro and con.

Schonberger began reading one of the letters in which the person stated they did not believe a “legal, legitimate business should be stopped because some objected to it morally and that personal feelings about pot shouldn’t interfere with a legal business.”

The mayor was interrupted by several angry comments that it wasn’t fair that a letter should be shared when others were here publicly stating their opinions. Schonberger said he was just trying to show that not everyone in the community is against it.

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Erker, whose business is Colorado Farm Products, was the first to speak at the hearing. Erker said his family has been a long-time member of the Morgan County community and that Brush has a unique opportunity with his proposed facility, likening it to the situation faced by the Coors Brewing Company in Golden following prohibition.

He said that “he wants nothing but the best for our community” and that the facility would create 31 jobs and 90 secondary jobs.

“There are a lot of empty storefronts on Main Street which is not good for anyone,” he said. “Lots of people graduating are not coming back here. The opportunities aren’t here, they are going elsewhere. I want to bring them back here to our community so we can all thrive together.”

His father, Mike Erker, said he thoroughly backs his son and that he was “disappointed that less than 20 percent of this group showed up at the facility to get educated” about Erker’s proposed marijuana business. On August 17, Erker held an open house at the correctional facility for information sharing.

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Most of those opposing lifting the moratorium on marijuana sales shared many of the same sentiments as those at the last public hearing – moral and social opposition and consequences, it would lead to increased drug use, crime and other problems in the community and that it sends a negative message to the area’s youth. Others against also said that tax revenue might not be realized.

Putting lifting the marijuana ban to the vote of the people and the need for more information and time to pass before making a decision were also common sentiments among those voicing their opposition.

Sally Shawcroft, who said she has five kids ranging from eight to 25, pointed to the reported economic boost to the city saying “but at what cost” and “it is without regard to social and moral consequences. This will change our city.” She added that “people say yes it’s (marijuana) here. So are other drugs. Are we going to condone it?”

Kevin Hansen said, “the three-year moratorium was put in place for a reason” and that “we should stick to the moratorium.” He questioned why the city should consider changing it just because one person asked for it.

In speaking for allowing marijuana sales Dale Parrish said that to continue the moratorium was “wasting a chance to increase revenue in this city.” He pointed to the five businesses on Main Street with liquor licenses who are serving alcohol that he said can lead to negative consequences such as cirrhosis of the liver.

“If you abuse anything it can be bad for you,” he said. 

Vince Little was one of several who spoke about the medical benefits of marijuana. Little is a paraplegic who broke his back in 2007 and uses marijuana for medical purposes. He said it doesn’t have the negative side effects of prescription drugs he has used, and that its use doesn’t prevent him from being a functioning member of society. “I am an intelligent man. I play sports and am still a productive member of society.”

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Ron Prascher, who is the executive director of the Brush Chamber of Commerce, said he “has talked to people on both sides, and they are emotional.” He added that 48 states have said no, “maybe they need more information to make a decision and maybe we do too” and that “I think the council should put it to the vote of the people.”

The hearing ended with discussion about water usage at the facility with various numbers offered by several people. When Denver-area medical marijuana patients’ rights advocate Teri Robnett stepped up to the podium to answer the question she was booed by some members of the audience. Robnett, who serves on a number of boards in the Denver area related to marijuana legalization, had spoken earlier at the hearing saying, “I am a resource, I am not here to tell you what to do, but I really do believe in these projects.”

Schonberger said the decision on whether to lift the moratorium will be addressed at the next city council meeting on Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers.

This story was first published on BrushNewsTribune.com