Colorado:City to ban dispensaries

growing medical marijuana

A medical marijuana plant

As if rules and regulations surrounding medical marijuana in Colorado couldn’t get more strange, it appears they have.

The City of Gunnison is moving to ban medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations — but not because it’s been decided that the businesses are an ill fit for the town.
Rather, the move is being enacted so that local control can be maintained and a question of whether pot shops should be allowed can be put to a vote of the people this spring.
City Attorney Rod Landwehr explained to City Council back in December that he and Community Development staff had begun drafting an ordinance that would ban dispensaries — which operate under a retail sales model — within the city. The ban would not impact medical marijuana patients or caregivers, both of whom are protected under the Colorado Constitution.
As Landwehr explained, the situation is this: The state is expected to enact final rules and regulations for the licensing of dispensaries as early as March 1.
A provision in state law says that when those rules are enacted, local moratoriums will cease, with the state’s rules taking effect. That’s unless local rules have been adopted, or a ban has been instated.
The city has had a moratorium on dispensaries in place while waiting to view the outcome of the state’s rules.
Without a city-wide ban, Landwehr posed the dilemma that a dispensary or grow operation could become licensed by the state after March 1, but if at a later date local regulations were adopted, it would be difficult — and cause potential grounds for legal challenge — for the city to enforce rules upon the already-licensed business.
City leaders have long intended to put the question to a vote this May for whether the commercial aspect of the drug — namely dispensaries and grow operations — should be allowed in the city.
A public hearing over the draft ordinance was scheduled during Wednesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, though the outcome of the hearing was not known as of press time. The ordinance will go to City Council for final approval.
In current form, the ordinance enacting the city-wide ban speaks specifically to grow operations, dispensaries and infused-products manufacturers.
The draft ordinance states that any person convicted of violating the ban would be subject to a fine of $1,000 or imprisonment for 90 days, or both.
It’s expected that if voters decide to allow the dispensaries and grow operations in the city at the May election, then city leaders would lift the ban and enact local regulations for licensing.
If not, then the ban would remain in place.
Discussion during Tuesday’s council meeting centered on the form local regulations could take, if voters give the thumbs-up to dispenaries.
Police Chief Keith Robinson provided a memo to council that proposes restricting commercial medical marijuana operations to the city’s industrial zone; requiring a 1,000-foot buffer from schools, churches and day-care businesses; a 500-foot buffer from parks and the fairgrounds; and a 100-foot buffer from residences.
Additional regulations under consideration include a requirement for security systems, ventilation and restricted hours of operation.
Some councilors questioned whether the city would be too heavy-handed in implementing such restrictions, making it impossible for the businesses to even exist.
City Manager Ken Coleman said many of the proposed regulations would seek to protect the community from unintended consequences of commercial medical marijuana establishments.
Council and city leaders also discussed Tuesday putting a second question to a vote in May for whether commercial medical marijuana sales should be taxed at an additional rate of 5 percent — over and above the current rate of 4 percnent — in the city.
“We feel there are additional requirements on the general fund for regulation, enforcement, for going through the permitting process and security issues,” said Coleman.