Medical marijuana advocates collecting petitions to overturn Fort Collins ban

On Valentine's Day, all Fort Collins dispensaries closed as the result of a retail ban passed the previous November. But MMJ patients and industry types aren't meekly accepting this verdict. Following on unsuccessful court challenge, they've banded together to collect signatures for a new proposal to make MMCs legal again -- and they've got union help in doing so, as Mark Belkin of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 makes clear.

"We're going to be working as hard as our members in Fort Collins and the owenrs whose businesses were shut down as a result of the last election," says Belkin, Local 7's organizing director. "We're putting together a community-wide and small-business coalition to collect signatures for petitions to get this back on the ballot."

The bud bar at Organic Alternatives, whose space serves as the petition-drive HQ.
The bud bar at Organic Alternatives, whose space serves as the petition-drive HQ.

Medical marijuana workers signed up with the UFCW last October, when the campaign against the ban proposal was in full swing. In the end, the vote was close but not razor-thin, with those favoring prohibition coming out on top by a 53-47 percent margin. However, Belkin feels these numbers can be reversed in part because turnout will presumably be much higher in 2012 due to the presidential election.

"A lot of these initiatives and referendums that are used as wedge issues are put on the ballot during off-year elections, because a much narrower voter base comes out to vote," he allows. "We believe that during a presidential election, there will be a much broader base, and that will work to the advantage of the medical marijuana movement."

Belkin also thinks voter-access issues disadvantaged the anti-ban group last time around.

"Statewide, thousands and thousands of registered voters did not receive a mail-in ballot," he points out. "And that's wrong. If you're a registered voter, you should receive a ballot."

Page down to continue reading about the petition drive to overturn the Fort Collins MMJ retail ban.   The dispensary ban has been "financially devastating" for former owners, Belkin notes. "These are people who've put hundreds of thousands of dollars into their businesses, and they've lost everything. And not only have these businesses been hurt, but patients who rely on and need medical cannabis no longer have access in Fort Collins.

"In the previous campaign, there was a lot of misinformation disseminated -- misinformation that appealed to people's stereotypes about crime rates going up and kids having access to medical cannabis, which is absolutely not true. If anything, the ban drives it underground, back into the alleys. Which is why the UFCW and the owners in Fort Collins are committed to having a medical cannabis industry that is regulated, controlled, creates a safe environment for patients, and is taxed."

This last factor is particularly key during these tight economic times, Belkin feels. "I think Fort Collins is losing close to $500,000 a year in taxes alone -- and that's one of the reasons Local 7 has been involved. It's about jobs. Walmart comes into town and creates 400 jobs and there's a big splash, even though they're poverty-wage jobs. But in Fort Collins, almost that many jobs have been lost, and they were jobs that paid decent wages. So this is really a job issue."

Supporters of the measure must collect 4,214 valid signatures for it to reach the ballot, and Belkin is confident they'll accomplish this goal -- after which the campaign will begin in earnest.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work and the maximum involvement of the people in the movement and the industry in Fort Collins," he says. "And Local 7 isn't going anywhere. We'll be here -- and we'll be back."

Look below to see a video about the petition drive launch from Northern Colorado 5.

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana workers joining UFCW Local 7: Is weed a growth area for unions?"

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