Pot patients suing Colorado city over closed dispensary
Ryan Summerlin November 30, 2009
CENTENNIAL, Colo. – A medical marijuana lawsuit in suburban Denver could test the limits of how far Colorado cities can go to stop pot shops.
A dispensary and three patients sued the city of Centennial Monday after the town shut down a marijuana dispensary last month.
Centennial originally gave CannaMart a business license but then forced the dispensary to close after about a month, saying town officials didn’t know the business was selling pot.
Kirsten Lamb, 41, one of the patients suing, said she has multiple sclerosis and can’t find an alternative dispensary she likes as well.
“They have always been there to take care of me, but now they’re not there,” she said.
The lawsuit could answer a question many Colorado cities are struggling to answer as pot shops proliferate: Do cities have to allow dispensaries just because state voters in 2000 allowed some patients to possess marijuana?
Lawyers for CannaMart say yes.
The Centennial lawsuit is the first of its kind in Colorado, and the message should be sent that towns can’t ban dispensaries, the attorneys said.
“They cannot ban a constitutional right,” said Robert Corry, one of CannaMart’s lawyers.
The plaintiffs want a judge to force Centennial to allow the dispensary to reopen.
But Centennial has the right to ban businesses that violate federal drug laws, said Centennial lawyer Robert Widner said Monday. And CannaMart wasn’t honest on its application for a business permit, he said.
“They had a license for medical supplies. We had no clue it was for marijuana,” Widner said.
Centennial did not pass a law banning dispensaries but simply revoked CannaMart’s business license because the establishment does not comply with federal drug laws, he said.
Cities in other states that allow the sale of medical marijuana have also been baffled by how to regulate it.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles officials put off a decision on whether to make permanent a moratorium on businesses selling it. The California towns of Sacramento and Santa Cruz are also considering banning pot shops.
In Colorado, Castle Rock banned marijuana dispensaries earlier this month after receiving at least two business permit applications for dispensaries. Those permits are under review.
The owners of CannaMart said the difference in Centennial is that the shop was given a license, then shut down without due process. One of the owners, Stan Zislis, said CannaMart was even in the process of paying city taxes.
“They cannot legitimize a business” by taking taxes, then shut it down, he said.
CannaMart, which had about 600 patients, was briefly located in the nearby suburb of Greenwood Village but was kicked out under a nuisance citation before its business permit there could be approved, Zislis said.
Eric Frasher, 41, said he has multiple sclerosis and joined the lawsuit because CannaMart’s closure forces him to “drive around all day” looking for a dispensary.
“I’d just like to see it back in my neighborhood,” Frasher told reporters.