Colorado pot shop debate heads to cities
June 11, 2010
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Colorado’s statewide medical marijuana debate is going local, with several cities planning to ban marijuana dispensaries less than a week after a state law took effect giving them that authority.Some city officials want to ban dispensaries outright while others want voters to decide. And in Colorado Springs, a conservative bastion with more than 100 dispensaries at last count, citizens angry at neighborhood pot shops are launching a petition drive to have the city shutter all pot dispensaries.”They should be banned,” said Steve Wind, a military retiree who started the petition effort. A city panel delayed approval of the petition effort Friday, calling for technical changes for legal reasons, but Wind and other pot opponents say they’ll be gathering signatures within weeks to put the question to voters in Colorado’s second-largest city this fall.In Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city, town officials are already moving toward approving a similar ballot question. So far Aurora has banned dispensaries through a moratorium; the vote could make the ban on pot shops permanent.And in Vail, a mountain resort that also has a moratorium, the town council is likely to vote on an outright ban, bypassing a public vote, by the end of the summer.”There is ample opportunity within 10 minutes of Vail to get medical marijuana. We don’t need dispensaries here,” Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland said.The city scramble to force pot shops to close, or prevent them in the first place, sets up a likely legal battle between cities and medical marijuana activists.Earlier this year, the Denver suburb of Centennial tried and failed to ban a marijuana dispensary, claiming cities have the right to ban business that violate federal drug law, even if Colorado law allows them.The marijuana dispensary in the Centennial case, Cannamart, prevailed in county court. But the pot shop hasn’t returned to Centennial, opening two locations in other suburbs instead, so the question of whether towns can ban marijuana businesses remained unsettled until Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Monday signed into law a measure giving cities permission to ban dispensaries if they wish.Dispensary owners vow more lawsuits to challenge that law.”We’ve been up and running for a year, no problem,” said Anthony Carmendy, owner of Pikes Peak Alternative Health & Wellness, a Colorado Springs dispensary with about 480 patients.”Now because you can’t control all the dispensaries, you want to ban all of us? That’s not right,” Carmendy said.The head of Sensible Colorado, a marijuana advocacy group, predicted “a series of legal battles” over municipal pot bans in coming months.But first, he said, marijuana advocates are hoping to prevent bans from passing. They’re mounting campaigns to remind voters that Colorado legalized medical marijuana by a wide margin in 2000, and so patients should have a place to buy medical marijuana. They’re also talking up economic benefits of selling and taxing pot – in Colorado Springs, for example, the local chamber of commerce has avoided taking a position on the prohibition attempt.Colorado Springs pot growers hope to give more citizens doubt about whether dispensary bans are a good idea. Tanya Garduno, president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, said pot shop opponents are mistaken to think most residents don’t like neighborhood marijuana shops.”I don’t think they have as much public support as they think they do,” Garduno said.She added that fears about the proliferation of pot shops in the last year will diminish because other provisions in the state bill – such as a new requirement that dispensaries grow at least 70 percent of the pot they sell – will prompt a noticeable reduction in the number of dispensaries already doing business.But local officials and the Colorado Springs petitioners insist that even if most voters here approve of medical marijuana for the sick, people are alarmed by the number of dispensaries and want most of them shut down.”It’s too often recreational use, not the way it was intended,” said Aurora City Councilman Robert Broom. He predicted easy passage of the ballot ban.”I think it’s pretty much a done deal,” Broom said.