MORE

Marijuana: Could Los Angeles-style dispensary closures happen in Denver?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries -- a decision that's expected to shutter more than 700 businesses.

Could something like that happen in Denver? Attorney and longtime marijuana advocate Brian Vicente doubts it, but he doesn't reject the possibility.

"A threat to safe access anywhere is a threat to safe access everywhere," Vicente says.

The L.A. action appears to have been driven by concern over the proliferation of dispensaries in the city, with Councilman Paul Krekorian saying they outnumber Starbucks outlets by a two-to-one margin, according to the Los Angeles Times article linked above. And while a California Supreme Court ruling could determine whether cities can regulate and/or ban retail operations, a case clarifying the controversy isn't expected to be heard for quite a while -- perhaps more than a year.

The bud bar of Organic Alternatives, which was closed in February under Fort Collins' dispensary ban.
The bud bar of Organic Alternatives, which was closed in February under Fort Collins' dispensary ban.

The lack of clear guidelines in California, whose initiative approving medical marijuana dates back to 1996, represents a clear contrast with Colorado, Vicente believes. Statewide regs are in place here and communities are able to ban dispensaries under them. Of course, this last option creates complications of its own: Witness Fort Collins, whose residents are being asked this November to allow medical marijuana centers less than a year after MMCs were shuttered after a dispensary ban. But the legal structure is very different from the sort of free-for-all atmosphere that's drawn so much federal scrutiny in California, Vicente believes.

"I think the fact that Colorado has a very clear and very strict set of statewide rules these medical marijuana businesses need to comply by really sends a message to our community that these guys are playing by the rules," he says. "In places like California, it's really a patchwork quilt of regulations. Some communities have strict regulations, some have lax regulations, and they don't really have a state standard that they can stand by and uphold."

Page down to read more about the Los Angeles dispensary ban and its potential repercussions in Colorado.

Moreover, Vicente feels that "in Denver and many communities around Colorado, medical marijuana businesses have become ingrained parts of the community. They're paying taxes and providing medicine for sick patients. And I think there's a degree of political and business savvy that business owners in Colorado have shown that business owners in L.A. maybe didn't show -- and hopefully, that can lead to their long-term survival."

As for Denver, Vicente thinks "the current composition of the Denver City Council has been very pro-job growth. It's hard to imagine them wanting to shut down this industry, which has really been one of the few growth industries in our city in the last several years."

Not that members of the MMJ industry should take this dynamic for granted.

"Business owners in Denver and beyond need to continue to be strong community members and continue to follow all the rules," he says. "In that way, I think they can continue to maintain their long-term viability, and that will allow them to keep providing for patients, keep paying into Denver's tax coffers and continue to run their businesses.

"I was a bit surprised" by the Los Angeles council's actions, he admits. "There have been medical marijuana shops in L.A. for probably close to ten years, and some of them are really upstanding stores. And even though some of them are probably not as compliant or quite as ethical business operators, for them to in one fell swoop shut down that many businesses is very concerning. That's why I think medical marijuana businesses in Colorado and beyond need to take note and redouble their efforts to be as compliant as possible -- so they can avoid their fate."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana regulation won't lead to dropping prices, increased use nationwide, advocate says."