Kathleen Chippi in front of her former dispensary in Nederland in 2010. (Greg Lindstrom, Daily Camera file)

Nederland could become sanctuary for medical, ‘spiritual’ pot users

One of Colorado’s most cannabis-friendly towns could get even friendlier after the November election.

Nederland resident Kathleen Chippi wants to make her tiny mountain town a sanctuary for all “spiritual” and medical marijuana users. A ballot measure she’s proposing would ask Nederland voters whether the town should stop spending money to enforce laws on marijuana, unless the use or possession causes deliberate harm to another person or property.

Chippi was inspired by so-called sanctuary cities in the United States and Canada with policies that bar local officials from asking people about their immigration status or from reporting them to federal immigration authorities.

Chippi, who used to own a dispensary and now sells local art in town, believes that no one in Colorado is really free to use, consume or grow marijuana for medical purposes without potential consequences because it’s still illegal under federal law.

The Colorado Supreme Court’s recent ruling that a business can fire an employee for using medical marijuana, even if the employee consumed cannabis outside of working hours and in accordance with state law, reaffirmed Chippi’s beliefs.

“We need to replicate what has been successful at keeping the feds at bay of enforcing federal law nationwide,” she said. “If sanctuary city language provides relief from federal law for non-Americans, it sure should provide relief to Americans who have twice voted to amend their state constitution contrary to federal law.”

Her proposed ordinance states that Nederland officials shall not assist or cooperate with local, state or federal investigations or arrests related to cannabis for “therapeutic or spiritual purposes.”

The ordinance would also prohibit them from gathering and disseminating information about cannabis users or growers, or from detaining people solely because they use or possess marijuana.

The new law also would create a cannabis commission with members such as a physician or public health official, an experienced law enforcement official and “a minister in a legitimate cannabis church,” among others.

Current laws ‘appropriate’

LauraJane Baur, Nederland town clerk, said the ballot measure needs 69 signatures — roughly 5 percent of the more than 1,300 registered voters in Nederland — to move forward.

Before it gets on the ballot, though, the Board of Trustees must first review the proposal, possibly sometime in early August, Baur said. The board could adopt the law or choose to forward it along to voters. If the board members vote down the measure, voters would still get a chance to weigh in, Baur said.

Baur said her office does not take a position on ballot measures.

Nederland police Chief Paul Carrill also declined to offer his opinion on the proposal, saying it was too early in the process.

Though he hasn’t seen the initiative, Mayor Joe Gierlach said he doesn’t believe citizen-led ballot measures are the best way to change or make new laws. He said a marijuana task force he created several years ago consulted with many stakeholder groups around the town to shape, refine and debate the town’s marijuana laws.

“We went through nine months of deliberation, went back to the Board of Trustees a couple of times, and finally adopted marijuana laws for Nederland,” he said. “So we’ve had laws in place, and I think those laws are appropriate. We did a fabulous job and got input from all of our citizens, and we haven’t really had too many complaints since then.”

Colorado voters authorized the use medical marijuana in 2000 with a constitutional amendment and in 2012 approved another amendment that decriminalized recreational marijuana. Since then, cities and towns have enacted their own pot regulations, including Nederland, which is viewed by many as progressive on marijuana rules.

‘Statement of ethics’

District Attorney Stan Garnett, who prosecutes criminal cases for all of Boulder County, including Nederland, said he feels the initiative is largely a “symbolic” effort, as his office has not made marijuana a top priority.

“I don’t quite know how you can make Nederland any more of a sanctuary for medical marijuana, frankly,” he said. “I’ve been very clear about my drug priorities, and we work closely with all police departments, including Nederland, to go after hard drugs, but I’m aware of almost no criminal enforcement activities (of medical marijuana), even from the U.S. attorney.”

Garnett said his priorities are crimes involving heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as those involving marijuana that are “far outside the legal framework,” such as money laundering or tax evasion.

Shawn Coleman, a lobbyist who works on cannabis-related issues, said he also believes the sanctuary ordinance is largely a formality.

“It’s more of a statement of ethics,” he said. “They really want people to know that if you’re a medical cannabis user, Nederland will always be a safe place for you, and I suppose that’s a nice statement to make.”

He said marijuana consumers or growers in Colorado should be more concerned about local and state laws than the federal government.

“There are places in Colorado today where you don’t have access to medical or retail marijuana, period, end of story, and that has nothing to do with the federal government,” he said. “The marijuana consumer in Colorado does not need to be concerned about federal policy.”

More info

Nederland sanctuary initiative: cannabissanctuary.org

Sarah Kuta: 303-473-1106, kutas@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/sarahkuta

This story was first published on DailyCamera.com