Carbondale medical pot discussion gets heated
August 25, 2011
CARBONDALE – A proposal to revisit a 1,000-foot spacing restriction separating medical marijuana businesses from schools included in a town licensing ordinance failed in a Carbondale Town Board vote Tuesday night.
The 4-2 decision to leave the distance requirement as it is for now prompted a heated exchange between two town trustees, pointing up the emotions surrounding the medical marijuana issue.
“This is something that’s still constitutionally legal in Colorado,” Trustee Frosty Merriott said during the meeting, in asking that the ordinance be reviewed and a 500-foot spacing limit be considered instead.
He said the 1,000-foot restriction essentially prohibits medical marijuana businesses in Carbondale, because of the relative small size of the town and a large number of schools spread across town. In addition to primary and secondary schools, the spacing restriction includes preschools and college facilities.
In making his case, Merriott even went so far as to disclose that he personally is a medical marijuana patient.
“I’ve been smoking pot for 40 years, and I think I’ve done OK,” said Merriott, who noted he’s now 64 years old. “I have my medical marijuana card now, which saves me from having to take one or two pain pills a day.”
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He said in a followup interview that he suffers from chronic back pain.
“I’ve been silent on this until now, and have tried not to get too involved, figuring that reason would prevail,” he said.
But the combined restrictions in the town’s recently adopted medical marijuana licensing and zoning ordinances are unreasonable, Merriott said.
Besides the school spacing provision contained in the licensing ordinance, the zoning regulations prohibit medical marijuana businesses from locating on the first floor of buildings fronting Main Street or Highway 133, and no such businesses can operate within 400 feet of the Main and Highway 133 intersection.
Existing businesses that pre-dated the ordinances will be allowed to continue where they are currently located, as long as they remain under the same ownership and don’t make any major changes to the premises. Carbondale currently has eight medical marijuana dispensaries.
Merriott’s motion to revisit the licensing ordinance was supported by Trustee John Hoffmann. But Mayor Stacey Bernot and trustees Pam Zentmyer, Elizabeth Murphy and Ed Cortez were opposed, while trustee John Foulkrod abstained.
That prompted Merriott’s ire to be directed at Cortez, who has been supportive of medical marijuana in general and in allowing related businesses to be permitted to operate in Carbondale.
“You’re a hypocrite,” Merriott told Cortez, before Bernot told them to cool down and called for a recess. The altercation reportedly continued in the hallway during the meeting break.
Merriott did express support for trustee Murphy’s suggestion to put the question of an outright prohibition on medical marijuana businesses on the April 2012 municipal ballot.
“I think it’s something we should discuss and have the public weigh in on,” he told the Post Independent. “But I think [prohibition] is a move that’s out of touch with the community, and I think an election would bear that out.”
Bernot noted that, if a town election is held and voters favor allowing medical marijuana businesses, the related ordinances could be revisited at that time. Both a town and statewide moratorium on new medical marijuana business license remains in effect until July 2012.