At 6 p.m. tonight, the Fort Collins city council will consider an emergency ordinance to place a moratorium "upon the acceptance of applications for the issuance of licenses or permits related to businesses that seek to dispense medical marijuana."
This action concerns Terri Lynn, a caregiver who operates as a private delivery service under the name Natural Alternatives For Health, and not only because she fears it will prevent her from expanding her business. She's more concerned about her three-dozen-plus patients, who, she says, explode the stereotypes about those with medical-marijuana licenses.
Far from being young people feigning debilitating conditions in order to legally smoke dope, "they're mostly over the age of fifty, and a lot of them are on disability. They've tried every pharmaceutical remedy that their doctors can prescribe for them, and they're not helping them. So they're calling me in tears as a last resort..."
These patients don't have much experience with weed. "They're scared to death," Lynn maintains. "They don't want to be called criminals or drug heads, and they don't want to be associated with the recreational use of marijuana. They just want something that can help them -- and what are we telling them if we make it harder for them to get what they need? How can we assure these folks that they can go to a clean, well-lighted, safe place to get their medicine, and not have to drive to some dark, storage-unit-type building on the outskirts of town?"
Lynn is anxious, too. She uses only her first and middle names in an effort to prevent criminals from Googling her, discovering her address and robbing her. For the same reason, she won't be speaking at tonight's meeting, although she plans to attend -- and she wrote a long letter to Fort Collins mayor Doug Hutchinson and the city council expressing her views; read it below. In her view, "we're at risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
According to an article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, one of the driving forces behind the emergency ordinance is city manager Darin Atteberry. The key passage:
"Unfortunately, we do not have land-use regulations in place that address medical marijuana dispensaries," City Manager Darin Atteberry said. "I'm also concerned that we don't have criteria for individuals who are applying for the licenses."
The city has issued 26 sales tax licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, or MMDs, since October 2008, including nine this month. Recently, inquiries about getting licenses for dispensaries have been averaging about 10 a week, Atteberry said.
City zoning regulations do not address where dispensaries may be located. Some licensed dispensaries have popped up in single-family residential areas, he said. Some are near schools.
"I have concerns about that, and police services has significant concerns about it," Atteberry said.
Later, Atteberry is quoted as saying that "some of these people wouldn't be able to get liquor licenses because of their criminal backgrounds. But it's OK for them to run an MMD." Lynn feels this is "a flawed analysis. There is no safe consumption of alcohol for actual, therapeutic use, just like there isn't for tobacco. Doctors don't tell you, 'Go home and drink alcohol.' In fact, most of them say don't consume alcohol and use tobacco. But we say, 'You can, because you're an adult. It's your health. You're paying the tax'
"I have no problem with that. But what I do have a problem with is when we equate the danger of recreational marijuana use, which I think is vastly overstated, with medical-marijuana use by actual patients. Those are two very different things."
She concedes that some abuses of the current system may be taking place.
"I don't deny that there are folks who are using medical marijuana recreationally and have found a loophole," she says. "There seem to be some doctors who are rubber-stamping approvals. I don't have any personal experience with that, but it's been conveyed to be anecdotally. But from where I'm sitting, patients will bear the brunt of any regulation, and that could make it harder to access medicine in a clean environment that protects their medical history."
Because of her clientele, Lynn has chosen not to open a storefront location. Instead, "I deliver straight to my patients' homes. It's the safest way to get them their medicine, and it doesn't identify them in front of a medical-marijuana business. It really helps protect their privacy." However, "at 39 patients, I'm at the limit of being able to see people. I actually have a waiting list of folks who want to work with me. The only way I can add more patients is to eliminate the drive time and have them come to me instead of me going to them. And a ten-month moratorium could impact my ability to grow the business the way it should be done."
That said, she's hardly against any and all rulemaking. "I agree that some regulation is probably needed if there's evidence that shows criminals have gotten involved. And I'm concerned about things like fertilizer runoff going into the sewage system and people using pesticides on plants. I think patients ought to know there's a mechanism in place for comparing business practices, so they can know who's a good guy and who's a hack."
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Still, she continues, "I think misguided regulations limiting the number of businesses and where they can be located will only push the industry back underground. They'll keep the city from gaining needed revenue in a legal fashion and put the real patients at risk."
Tonight's meeting takes place at City Hall West, 300 Laporte Avenue. Read the fourteen-page agenda item about the potential moratorium here -- and look below to check out Lynn's letter to the mayor and city council:
Dear Council Members and Mayor Hutchinson,
I am an Avery Park resident and legally-operating business owner here in Fort Collins. My business name is Natural Alternatives for Health. Although I am not a dispensary as the term is currently used to describe a retail store front operation, I do dispense medical cannabis to patients (who have me listed as caregiver) in the privacy of their homes via a delivery service (no dispensing or patients at my home ever). The 39 patients that I serve are "real" patients, mostly older, suffering from a variety of illnesses, including terminal cancer, auto-immune diseases (arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, etc.), musculoskeletal disorders (multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, injuries, etc.), gastrointestinal disorders (IBS, Crohn's Disease, uncontrolled nausea and wasting syndrome), among others.
You don't hear about my business because it would not be safe for me or for my patients - so I keep a very low profile. If my business dealings were made public, my home would likely be targeted for armed robbery, my patients' personal medical histories would be made public, and their homes be in jeopardy, too.
But if you did hear about my business, I am pretty sure you would conclude it is run exactly as voters intended when they passed the law allowing for medical use of cannabis:
• I consult attorneys to ensure legal compliance of all aspects of my business, plant counts and weight included • I offer my patients more care than just dispensing medical cannabis; • I have all necessary business licenses; • I pay all sales taxes; • All of the construction done on my garden was signed off by the city's building inspectors; • All the permit fees were paid to the city; • I grow organically; • I follow best-practices for energy conservation and eliminating fertilizer waste in the sewer system.
I meet with all of my patients personally and interview them before allowing them to designate me as their caregiver. (I don't want to work with recreational users even if they have a mmj license.) Each patient receives approximately 12 hours of personalized "Cannabis as Therapy" education from me and I don't charge a dime for my time, only for the herb that they purchase (at a fraction of the going dispensary rate, I might add).
Each patient also receives a customized treatment plan and training in how to use the various strains and delivery options - vaporizer, edible, topical, etc. - to achieve effect relief from their symptoms. In order to be accepted as one of my patients they also agree to fill out strain evaluation forms so that we may monitor how well the drug is working and at what dosages. They also get counseling on tolerance, dependence, and addiction to make sure that they understand not only the benefits, but also the potential risks of cannabis treatment. I work with their physicians to coordinate treatment and facilitate titrating down from narcotic meds at the request of some patients.
I am concerned that your discussion on marijuana dispensaries in Fort Collins would negatively impact my chosen business model, when, in fact, it's exactly the model that is helping really sick people in dire need.
I am also concerned that by calling an emergency session, the city council is bypassing necessary and appropriate safeguards to ensure for adequate notice and public comment. This item is listed last on the agenda and quite frankly, most of my patients will be unable to stay at the meeting long enough (unmedicated) for their comments to be heard. If it were a true emergency, you would list it first on the agenda to allow them the opportunity to speak.
I do not plan on commenting at tomorrow's meeting as I think the risk of exposure is too great at this time (my face is very well known in the community from my work with non-profits). However, I am happy to meet with you in person at your convenience to share my ideas on how to improve patient and caregiver safety and prevent fraud, crime and under-age usage. A lot of lives depend on you not taking the reactionary route and "just saying no."
In summary, I hope you'll consider the following:
• This is NOT an emergency and normal resolution processes should be followed. • The emergency session will eliminate comments from those most affected by your proposed changes. • Standards for who can own and operate a medical cannabis business seem warrantedif evidence exists that criminals are involved - please provide details. • Regulations that allow for safe growing conditions, safety, and environmental compliance seem warranted. • Misguided regulations limiting the number of such businesses or where they can be located will only push the industry back underground, deprive the city of needed tax revenue, and put real patients at risk.
Owner, Natural Alternatives for Health