It's standing room only at a community meeting Aug. 4 to discuss allowing retail sales and the cultivation of marijuana within Brush city limits. A second such meeting will be held Aug. 18. (Lisa Jager, Brush News-Tribune)

Pot plans for prison draw curiosity, criticism from Brush community

Based on the comments expressed at a packed community meeting this week, the citizens of Brush are decidedly not interested in allowing the cultivation and sale of retail marijuana within city limits.

It was standing room only at the Aug. 4 meeting with nearly 100 people filling the seats in the Brush City Council chambers and lining the sides of the room, as well as the walls behind the council members seating area.

Some in attendance held signs reading “Morals and Value Over Money” and “All America City Equals No Marijuana.”  Mayor Chuck Schonberger kicked off the meeting by saying the council decided to hold the forum for public comments on retail marijuana after receiving a request earlier this summer from Nicholas Erker of Colorado Farm Products to reconsider Brush’s current moratorium on the retail sale of marijuana in Brush.

Erker wants to develop a new business for the cultivation and retail sale of marijuana in the former High Plains Correctional Facility on Industrial Park Road in Brush, which Erker purchased last March.

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Erker, who had a maximum of three and a half minutes to state his case as did the rest of the attendees, said “we have a unique opportunity here in Brush” which could create 31 jobs and add up to $500,000 in tax revenue to the city. He said he has been attending recent Brush City Council meetings where he has heard the council talk about projects the city wants to complete, such as baseball diamonds and infrastructure projects, which revenue from taxes on marijuana could help fund.

He cited some Colorado statistics since the state approved the sale of marijuana, including seeing a 10 percent reduction in crime, a decrease in suicide rates and in the past two months alone, the addition of 2,000 jobs.

Erker likened the possibility of Brush embracing marijuana cultivation and sales to the production of sugar beets in the area, stating that Brush is a good community that prides itself on being Beetdiggers, and that back when “a new industry came to town and said let’s plant sugar beets the community welcomed it.”

Angie Ziegler, who introduced herself as a mother of three, countered Erker’s statement by saying, “I don’t think you can compare beets to pot. Beets do not chemically alter your state.” She also expressed concern about what effect the facility would have on the area’s youth, saying “kids are not understanding what it (legalization of marijuana in Colorado) meant.”

The negative effect retail marijuana sales might have on area youth was a common theme among those at the meeting who expressed their opposition to marijuana sales. Other common sentiments were that it would lead to increased drug use, that the marijuana facility is in opposition to small-town morals and values, that it is not a reflection of an All America City and fears that it will increase crime and other problems in Brush.

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Two former longtime mayors of Brush, Dan Scalise and Larry Coughlin, were some of the first to speak at the hearing and both were opposed to the facility and allowing marijuana sales. Scalise said the current moratorium should stay in place for the full three years. He also said he didn’t believe marijuana sales should be allowed and “that we are a good community that should stay that way, and it could open the door for other stores opening.” Coughlin said, “You have to weigh the money versus the problems. The problems would outweigh the money.” He also commented on the reported ready availability of marijuana in Brush, and that if legal sales are allowed it should be put to the vote of the citizens.

“People say kids can already get marijuana. That may be true, but they can’t go out and get it at an industrial park,” Coughlin said. “We can figure out to a way to pay for ball fields. This would be a wrong move by the city council. If it is going to consider it should be referred to a vote of the people.”

Many of the initial comments against marijuana sales were met with applause, resulting in Schonberger repeatedly telling the group that this form of expression was not allowed.

Corey Ridal also expressed his opposition to marijuana sales, saying, “I like my small town, we don’t need a marijuana plant here” and suggested, as did others, that the facility should be used for something else such as a recreation facility.

Several Brush clergy members stated their opposition to marijuana sales, including Chris Russell, senior pastor at the Assembly of God Church who said, “I have lived in some rough spots such as in Aurora and Arvada, and have always felt very safe here. I have seen what other communities are like…and it scares me, not for me but for my kids. I don’t want them to think marijuana is perfectly normal.”

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However, Charlene Holtzworth of Emmanuel Congregational Church said she could see both sides of the issue.

“I am in an interesting position,” she said. “I agree with much of what Nick said, but also with what Pastor Chris said. It undoubtedly could be a huge economic boon from things I have read and researched. But there is a cost as well as a benefit. This is a difficult thing for people to weigh. I agree that it should be put to the vote of the people.”

One of those speaking to allow retail marijuana sales was Allison Roe, who introduced herself as a transplant from Washington. She said, “I keep hearing people talking about recreational use, however a growing facility could benefit those outside of the community for medical use. We also need to educate our youth. Marijuana is no different than alcohol or prescription medication.” She added, “It could benefit our schools. If we can contribute to our schools, why wouldn’t we do that?”

However Brush School Superintendent Michelle Johnstone opened her remarks by saying, “I want to clarify a couple of things.” She said through the state’s equalization forum when local taxes (property and ownership) increase, the state takes the money and applies an equalization formula resulting in an “absolutely neutral gain for school districts.”

According to a handout distributed by Johnstone to clarify misconceptions circulating about tax revenue allocations from marijuana “local governments receive 15 percent of the 10 percent retail marijuana state sales tax and that no sales tax revenue from marijuana will directly benefit a specific school district. Sales taxes may increase the amount available to spend from the school finance formula, which would benefit all school districts in the state.” The handout also states that the “15 percent retail marijuana excise tax goes to Colorado public school construction (BEST grant) with the first $40 million collected annually going to public school construction.”

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Although area resident Kevin Hansen, said “It’s federally against the law so I don’t see why we are having this debate” he said he would like to see the city council talk about any additional funds going to the school district. “If it goes to the people, additional taxes should go to the school district.”

Another educator to speak out about whether or not to allow marijuana sales was Brush Middle School Principal Connie Dreitz who said she has been an employee of the Brush School District for 20 years and “has seen the impact drugs have on families. I work with students day after day and see drug issues with themselves and family members. I feel this would not be a good thing for the community.”

Several people voiced their concern about marijuana being known as a gateway drug leading to the use of other drugs. Self-professed former marijuana and meth user Colin DuPree shed some light on why for some marijuana is a gateway drug – the availability of other types of drugs from dealers from which the marijuana is purchased.

“As far as it being a gateway drug, it’s because you have to go to the drug dealer to buy it and marijuana is not the only thing they sell,” he said.

He also commented on the current use of marijuana in Brush and the need to educate youth.

“It’s been here all along, it’s in our schools and in our towns,” he said. “People that want to use it will use it. They can buy it off the streets. You can throw a blanket over it and ignore it, or we can do our best to regulate it and control it. I’m not here to say it’s good or bad. Our job is to educate our kids.”

Cindy Erker Schmid, who introduced herself as a former county commissioner, said, “I think it is a hard decision, but the reality is that it is a legal drug in the State of Colorado, and it will soon be available in Morgan County. You have to set regulations to control it in a way to be best for the community.”

Butch Anderson, who said he previously worked at the facility when it was an active prison, also shared his support of allowing marijuana sales and using the facility as a forum. 

“I think we need to look at it as an opportunity rather than a detriment,” Anderson said. “Marijuana is here and here to stay. It is very available to our youth. If we utilize the facility as a marijuana grower, there is no way it could be better protected.”

One of the last people to speak at the meeting was Alisha Nichols who introduced herself as an alumni from Brush. She said, “I am proud to be a Beetdigger. I have seen how much effort was being put into becoming an All America City. I don’t want to see it around the community. It should come to down to our vote.”

Changing Brush’s marijuana ordinance

In a handout distributed by the city at the meeting it listed three city alternatives related to the consideration of marijuana sales:

1) Continue with the current moratorium (expires July 1, 2016) prohibiting marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities and retail marijuana stores.

2) Adopt ordinances and regulations governing the time, place, manner and number of marijuana establishments. Option: may also refer to the ballot questions imposing additional local sales or excise taxes on retail marijuana.

3) Adopt an ordinance prohibiting marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities and retail marijuana stores.

A second community meeting on whether or not to allow the retail sale of marijuana will be held Monday, Aug. 18 at 6 pm. Comments may also be submitted in writing to City Clerk Andrea Strand by mail to 600 Edison Street, Brush, CO 80723 or by email to

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