On Monday, June 15 the Partners for a Drug Free Community (Partners) met for their regular monthly meeting, this time to share that the group had been verified as an official non-profit organization.
“Partners is now a verified 501(c)3 so we can start looking at grants,” said Debbi Barry, now working with the Department of Human Services. “We had an opportunity to touch base with a grant writer and we’ll be working on those moving forward. Other than that we’re trying to keep moving right along.
Last month, the group subdivided into three groups and each subcommittee (treatment, youth and family prevention, and law enforcement) met separately to review the Partners work plan and objectives. Anne Hill from the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment was present to help guide the group on strengthening the big picture.
“I’d like us today to just review four objectives for the much larger overarching piece,” said Hill. “From there, our hope is that we will be able to finalize the work plan next month and then put it into some sort of format in which you all can update it regularly.”
Hill went through the four objectives taking time to give a good explanation of the steps the group should take to move forward. Some things discussed included creating more youth awareness activities as well as the importance of keeping strong data.
“How do we know what’s going on and how do we assess if we’re doing a good job if we’re not collecting local data,” Hill said. “We’ll clean this work plan up for formatting and grammar. The hope is come next month, people can vote on it formally.”
Does “drug free” mean cannabis is a target?
In the draft work plan presented, the group plans to have a five-year data and evidence-based work plan developed by the end of the year.
While the group has made big strides to help those with addiction primarily on opiates, they are also turning some of their attention towards cannabis.
According to the proposed plan, the group will work next year to explore legislation and processes to reduce the percentage of allowed THC in cannabis available for recreational users.
Last Monday, Trinidad City Council had a work session where they discussed the potentiality of moving to adopt state legislation allowing for cannabis hospitality establishments. Councilmember Erin Ogletree, who also serves as liaison between the city and the Partners board, provided an update on the issue.
“The state permitted several different licenses but the two that we were looking at pertained to marijuana hospitality establishments, of which there were two kinds,” said Ogletree. “There are marijuana hospitality businesses and then retail marijuana hospitality and sales businesses. The basic outline is just the plain hospitality business would be a place that got licensed to permit people to consume marijuana on site. There are regulations available for cities to put into place.”
I see it as an accessory to a business that probably already has people using marijuana on site and they want some kind of a safe place that people can do it and not have to be worried that they’re doing something wrong or inappropriate in Trinidad,” said Ogletree.
“Our discussion was our first real discussion on it. We had talked a little bit about it earlier this year when we were meeting in person,” said Ogletree. “This time I definitely got the sense that there was a favorable response to this by most city council members. In talking with [Les Downs] our city attorney, we will have another work session to discuss it more fully and figure out if there are additional and more stringent requirements that we would want to apply. If we reach a consensus on that, Les would take over writing the ordinance and it would go through the regular process of any kind of a new ordinance.”
Jill Wilson with Health Solutions expressed concerns with the city potentially adopting the state’s legislation.
“This really goes against everything we’re trying to accomplish here in Partners for a Drug Free Community,” said Wilson. “I am concerned about these paid places where people are going to leave at the end and be under the influence. I just don’t think it’s a healthy option personally.”
“We have people coming here and purchasing marijuana but it’s difficult for them to find a place to use it while they’re here,” said Ogletree. “That bothers me. We have scores of bars and people do things after they become drunk in bars that are far more dangerous than things people do when they consume marijuana in terms of aggression. That’s not a typical response to marijuana. I have a hard time taking a high and holy ground about marijuana when we have so much of an infusion of alcohol in our society. We basically don’t think twice about that and it has health impacts that are bad. I think it’s a conversation communities need to have.
I’m not a proponent of people using any substance to get through life but people do,” said Ogletree. “It’s how they deal with stress and interact with friends. I think everything has to be taken in balance and I think jurisdiction can put reasonable restraints on the licenses that can make it better for our community than the way it is now.”
Another participant in the meeting asked Ogletree if there was anything being considered as far as normalization of cannabis as well as how it was kept away from youth. While regulations require that inside of these type of businesses not be visible from the outside and that entrants must be 21 years of age or older, normalization was something Ogletree said she’s observed was happening throughout the nation, regardless of individual stance.
“I think normalization, in our society, is the direction we’re going with marijuana as more and more states legalize it on some basis,” said Ogletree. “It is being seen as a medicine. I have seen people make good and productive use of it and so as far as normalization, I think that’s already happening.”
Las Animas County Commissioner Felix Lopez added that he would like to see more data on the effects of cannabis on the body and reiterated that the organization’s purpose was to have an entire community free of all drugs.
“If we’re going to be going through that perspective, I would like to recommend public comment to include schools and the college and the community,” said Lopez. “We had some place in our title, drug free communities I think is the way I read that. I don’t want us to create a conflict of interest but thank you for the update. If that’s where society wants to go, then let the majority say that’s what we want here in Trinidad.”
Ogletree added that she agreed it was a great idea to get input from the schools and college and gather as much data as possible. She also said currently the cannabis shops have proved to be good citizens of the town and her understanding of what Partners for a Drug Free Community had to do more with following laws and responsible use.
“Our title being drug free community, we’re not trying to eliminate alcohol from our society and alcohol is a drug,” said Ogletree. “What I see that [Partners for a Drug Free Community] being is more about the abuse of those kinds of substances.”
Ogletree said it was an interesting conversation that needed to be had in the community and specifically in the group moving forward.
“Are we trying to say we’re a city that wants prohibition back or are we going to be a city that says we know you’re adults and know you make adult choices. We want you to do it responsibly and these are the limitation that you have. As far as I know, we haven’t as of yet had that conversation in this town and we need to.”
Las Animas County Chief Probation Officer Marty Malouff said he was concerned with the social long-term effects would be of allowing consumption spaces.
“I would like to hear law enforcement’s opinion on whether this is a good move,” said Malouff. “It’s changing our culture and I’m personally against that. I don’t want it to change in the area I grew up in just because society is going in a certain way. That doesn’t mean it’s all good.”
Ogletree added that what she took away from the discussion was that the city should, and would, gather as much data as possible and be data-driven. She also said that though the issue wouldn’t be discussed for several weeks because of other more pressing matters, she would keep the board abreast of when that discussion would take place and encouraged everyone who wanted to share their thoughts to sign up for public comment at city council meetings.
The next Partners meeting is at 9:15 a.m. on Monday, July 20.