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State Medical Marijuana Bill Opens Door For Local Dispensary Ban


Nug of the Month: Aug 2008
The General Assembly is poised this week to give communities across the state the ability to kick the medical marijuana business out of town.

Contained within a massive bill to regulate the burgeoning industry is a provision that would allow counties and cities to regulate, license or prohibit the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana.

That means if HB1284 makes it through the state Senate as expected this coming week, the debate over medical marijuana would only increase in Colorado Springs, where a task force has been hashing out proposed city regulations. El Paso County, meanwhile, has temporary regulations in place for dispensaries, pending state action.

"I think we should be in control of our own destiny," said Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Larry Liston who supports giving communities a choice on marijuana businesses.

What that could mean here remains unclear. Local leaders are split on how strictly to regulate medical marijuana businesses, even as the number of dispensaries and cultivation businesses in Colorado Springs continue to skyrocket, with more than 100 in town, according to authorities.

Darryl Glenn, a Colorado Springs city councilman, said he sees that provision leading to a local referendum on medical marijuana dispensaries that could tighten regulations here or ban the businesses outright.

"The voters did support medical marijuana use but I don't think the voters intended that to allow the proliferation of dispensaries," he said.

Prohibition of dispensaries, though, doesn't appeal to everyone.

"Well, my personal opinion is we would be foolish to ban dispensaries," said Sean Paige, a Colorado Springs city councilman who is working with a committee to build regulations for medical marijuana in the city.

The city council has stalled progress on new regulations while waiting for the General Assembly to act.

Dispensaries to distribute medical marijuana burst onto the city's landscape last year after the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug, said it wouldn't interfere with state laws that legalize marijuana for medical uses.

Amendment 20, approved by Colorado voters in 2000, legalized medical marijuana without setting up a system to legally distribute it to patients.

That left dispensaries in a gray area that lawmakers, at the urging of cities and counties, are trying to clear up.

"It's not like the liquor laws where we have it so well defined and so well implemented," said Monument's Republican Rep. Amy Stephens.

In a nondescript house on Colorado Avenue, Brian Lee has been dispensing marijuana since October at his Colorado Springs Medical Marijuana Center, which now also operates branches in Penrose and Gleneagle.

"I don't think we'll see the city of Colorado Springs banning dispensaries," Lee said. "They see the need of having the dispensaries here."

But fears remain that Colorado Springs and other cities could ban dispensaries, through local government decisions or through citizen-driven ballot measures.

"The medical marijuana industry is very leery of this," said Clifton Black, a Colorado Springs attorney who has consulted with about 50 medical marijuana business clients.

The need for dispensaries is driven by demand. Lee said the number of people seeking marijuana to treat symptoms including chronic pain and nausea at his dispensary keeps growing.

The state reports that 1,000 applications a day are arriving from people seeking medical marijuana registry cards.
"People want to get legal," Lee said.

But putting the stamp of legality around the marijuana business is troubling to some lawmakers, including Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Kent Lambert, who has opposed measures to regulate the dispensaries.

"It puts into law an acknowledgement of sales of an illegal drug," he said, making reference to the federal prohibition.

That attitude, Black said, could lead to dispensary bans, and court fights around Colorado.

"You have individuals who are city councilors and county commissioners who will invoke their personal biases against medical marijuana to shut it down," Black said.

Black said any ban will wind up in court, with medical marijuana businesses claiming protection under Amendment 20.

"They are putting local governments into bad situation," Black said of the General Assembly. "It will be the local governments that are facing those lawsuits."

In Woodland Park, leaders are struggling with how to regulate marijuana sales.

Mayor Steve Randolph said medical marijuana is far from being the city's top issue, but it is one of the more divisive topics leaders have dealt with.

"I think it has the potential to be a lightning rod for a while," Randolph said. "You have people who are passionate about it in one way or another."

In Woodland Park and Colorado Springs, efforts are now focused on zoning and regulating the industry rather than banning it.

But Randolph likes the idea of having the power to ban marijuana shops in the city council's arsenal.

"Political will needs to be driven by community will," he said.

In the Senate, the region's biggest voice remains undecided on the proposed medical marijuana regulations.
Senate Majority leader John Morse, a Colorado Springs Democrat, said he's hasn't decided whether he supports HB1284.

"The trick is everything we are doing is a violation of federal law," said Morse, a former Colorado Springs and Fountain police officer.

Morse, who has control of when bills are entertained on the Senate floor, said the measure will be hotly debated this week.

The measure, which passed the House in a different form, will wind up back in the state House if it gets Senate approval.

The General Assembly session ends May 12.

This coming week, Colorado's state Senate will take up HB1284, to regulate the medical marijuana business.

The bill would:

- Establish licenses for medical marijuana sellers and growers with rules similar to those set for liquor stores.

- Allow cities and counties to regulate, license or prohibit medical marijuana businesses.

- Impose a one-year moratorium on licensing new medical marijuana businesses. Existing businesses would be allowed to operate.

- Ban doctors from getting kickbacks for medical marijuana referrals.

- Allow the state Department of Public Health and Environment to write new rules for doctors who sign off on medical marijuana recommendations and patients applying for the state registry.

- Set medical marijuana labeling requirements.

NewsHawk: Ganjarden: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Colorado Springs Gazette
Contact: Colorado Springs Gazette
Copyright: 2010 Freedom Communications
Website: State medical marijuana bill opens door for local dispensary ban
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