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Carbondale officials consider medical marijuana oversight

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Town officials will team with representatives of local medical marijuana dispensaries, and invite concerned citizens to the table as well, to discuss possible regulatory controls over the burgeoning business.

Several local “caregivers” – the state constitutional term used for those who dispense marijuana to registered patients – attended a special Carbondale trustee meeting Tuesday night.

Town trustees want to get a handle on the number of dispensaries in town, which now total six, and address issues such as the proximity of such establishments to schools, security concerns and how to handle grow operations in residential dwellings.

“We are all locals who work with each other to accommodate locals, and we do have the community’s interests in mind,” said Jami Hill-Miller, director of community outreach for the Local’s Emporium of Alternative Farms (LEAF) located in downtown Carbondale.

Hill-Miller said she would be willing to be part of any discussions to come up with what some at the meeting referred to as “reasonable” local controls over the new industry.

“I also spoke with [Glenwood Springs Police Chief] Terry Wilson about some of these same concerns,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have encountered people who don’t have the same passion to serve the community.

“People are moving in here from other states [to open dispensaries] who don’t necessarily have the best interests of the community in mind,” Hill-Miller said.

Carbondale officials are mulling the question of whether additional oversight may be needed beyond what the town’s zoning code addresses, such as licensing for caregivers and simply acknowledging dispensaries as a new form of business in zoning code language.

The six dispensaries now in operation are located in various commercial and industrial zone districts around town.

However, because terms like “medical marijuana,” “dispensary” and “caregiver” aren’t in the zoning code, the closest interpretation would be a medical clinic or pharmacy, Carbondale Community Development Director Doug Dotson said.

Such uses are allowed in commercial zones and some planned unit developments, but not in industrial zones, he said.

Grow operations in residential areas, if interpreted to be an agricultural use, could also be deemed to be in violation of zoning codes, Dotson said.

“Some of the grow aspect is beginning to take place in residential units, which has led to a few complaints,” Dotson said.

Under state law, enacted by the 2000 voter approval of Amendment 20, registered medical marijuana patients are allowed to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and can grow up to six plants for personal use.

However, the law does not specify how caregivers are to be supplied for the patients they serve, which has resulted in larger grow operations to serve multiple patients.

While the state Legislature is working on a range of regulatory controls over the industry, local governments are also attempting to do what they can to deal with the growing medical marijuana business.

“We’re not trying to infringe on your business,” Carbondale Trustee Ed Cortez said at Tuesday’s meeting. “My concern, and the concern of some people in town, is how to deal with the proliferation of these dispensaries.

“It’s a brand new conversation,” he said. “We do have to get along with a segment of the community that may or may not be in favor of it.”

Town Manager Tom Baker agreed to bring together a working group, including dispensary representatives and members of the public who have expressed concerns, to work out some solutions.

“We’re glad to help get the ball rolling,” said Quinn Whitten, a caregiver and director of operations at LEAF, which also has an Aspen location. “We believe we have a model that will stand the test of regulation.”

jstroud@postindependent.com


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