After hearing concerns from those currently in the business, the Alamosa county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.
The ordinance sets up a process where the existing business in the county, Sensitiva in East Alamosa, and any new businesses will have to apply for a special use permit to operate in the county.
Such businesses will be restricted to commercial zoning for sales of medical marijuana and agricultural zoning for growing operations. They will have to be farther than 1,000 feet from churches, schools, childcare facilities, public parks, governmental buildings, residential areas, dormitories, hospitals and detention facilities. Measurements will be taken from nearest property line to nearest property line.
Medical marijuana dispensaries will also be required under the county’s new ordinance to display at the entrance of the building a sign no less than 36”x36” warning customers that marijuana is a controlled substance and the use, sale, distribution or cultivation of it is still a violation of federal law.
Medical marijuana centers and the use of medical marijuana products are not being prosecuted in Colorado according to the wishes of voters who approved Amendment 20. Marijuana may be used for medicinal purposes as prescribed by primary caregivers in Colorado.
Alamosa officials stressed that all state regulations apply, and the county’s new ordinance requires copies of documentation medical marijuana facilities submit to the state.
The commissioners will act as the local licensing authority.
Sensitiva owners brothers Mark and Brian Bustos talked about concerns they had with the ordinance and how it might affect the future or even existence of their business.
They said the way the county is requiring measurements from prohibited locations, like residential areas, their existing business would be disqualified and according to the ordinance they would have to cease operations. They said they have been in business about three years, pay $30,000-35,000 in taxes annually and employ seven people.
One of those employees, Michael Medina, who is also a patient, said this job has been a stabilizing force for him and he would hate to lose it. He added that medical marijuana provides a great deal of benefit for patients who need it, such as cancer patients who are dealing with nausea.
The Bustos brothers added they have never had any problems with the law during their years in business. They asked for measurements to be taken from the way a person would logically travel from one place to another, not in a straight line from property to property.
They said a block wall separates their business from the nearest residential neighborhood.
Mark Bustos also said it was important to be able to continue growing operations on site rather than require them to be done in agricultural zoning elsewhere. He said if area medical marijuana patients had to grow their own, the county would have a hundred or more people growing it instead of one dispensary.
In addition, Sensitiva serves 30-40 patients from Conejos County who would have to find another way to serve their medical marijuana needs if Sensitiva shut down, Mark Bustos said.
Brian Bustos added, “If I close down, you will have 500 plants growing rampant in your county.”
He said he felt like the county commissioners were personally targeting Sensitiva, trying to shut it down.
“I am just trying to stay open,” Brian Bustos said.
Commissioners told the Bustos brothers they were not trying to shut them down. The commissioners said every medical marijuana business, including the existing business, will have to now come before the county licensing board (the commissioners) under the special review process, and the commissioners could exercise some leniency at that time, for example grandfathering Sensitiva in. The commissioners did not promise to do that but indicated that could be an option.
County Attorney Jason Kelly said that was the commissioners’ prerogative. He told the Bustos brothers the ordinance provides for them to stay in business until the county acts on their application anyway.
Adrian Maestas, who operates a medical marijuana dispensary in Costilla County, is interested in expanding to Alamosa County. He said growing operations are not a problem for him because they transport products from a separate cultivation site already. They have to post a manifest of the marijuana to be transported 24 hours ahead of time and weigh it before it departs and when it arrives.
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Author: Ruth Heide
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