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Medical marijuana: Could Fort Collins ban lead to hundreds of new home grows?

The successful vote to prohibit medical marijuana retail operations in Fort Collins led to the Valentine's Day closure of all the city's dispensaries. This week, the city council formalized the ban and decided on new rules for home grows, which one member predicts could soon number in the hundreds -- an outcome that may come as a shock to the very people who nixed MMCs in the first place.

As Councilman Ben Manvel notes, "We decided to allow grows in single-family homes and leave in our standard of caregiver-plus one and twelve plants per house" -- decisions that are generating controversy, as well as litigation-threats.

"We're already getting e-mails about being sued," Manvel reveals. Example: a note from "a person who lives in a multi-family building in Fort Collins. He has a card and he figures it's between him and his insurance company and his mortgage company if he has a home grow. The constitution says he enjoys reasonable access to medical marijuana, so he wants to know how it's legal that we're not letting him grow marijuana in his home just because there's another unit there. So there's a question about the legal defensibility of this."

Manvel is uncertain if the e-mailer's argument is viable: "I'm not a lawyer, so I'll let them fight it out," he says. However, he admits that "I have a problem on the basis of fairness. I have enough money to own a house, so I can grow marijuana in my back window if I have a card. But someone in a duplex cannot grow marijuana in their back window even if their landlord is okay with it."

Still, Manvel wound up voting in favor of the single-family home limitation "because I do think there are hazards in any marijuana grow, although there were some efforts to exaggerate them by various people" at the Tuesday council meeting where the decision was reached. "They made it sound like it was meth or something. But there are hazards of humidity and mold and high electricity use and home invasion, and to impose those on co-residents of a multi-family dwelling is also problematic."

The council plans to monitor the new rules' implementation with an eye toward possible tweaks in the future. But Manvel thinks supporters of the ban are likely to discover that, in this case, the solution to what they saw as a problem may turn out to be more troublesome than the previous scenario.

"I think people supporting the initiative, Initiative 300, were basically saying, 'We can get rid of marijuana in Fort Collins,'" Manvel allows. "Those people who were running the campaign against 300, and those of us on council who supported our existing rules, were trying to make people understand that marijuana is going to be here in Fort Collins because of the state constitutional amendment, and that if we didn't have dispensaries and commercial grows, we were going to have household grows and the caregiver model, where we have absolutely no knowledge of where they are and no way to inspect them. It leaves us in a wild-west state, and we really didn't want to go there -- but that's where we wound up."

Page down to continue reading our interview with Fort Collins councilman Ben Manvel.

The bud bar at Organic Alternatives, a now-shuttered Fort Collins dispensary.
The bud bar at Organic Alternatives, a now-shuttered Fort Collins dispensary.

Manvel points out that "everyone on council is wanting to respect the will of the voters, even though it was a very close vote. People did vote not to have commercial dispensaries, and we've gotten rid of those. But that means home grows in neighborhoods, and I think some of the opponents of the initiative aren't going to be very comfortable with that."

After all, there are thousands of medical marijuana patients in the Fort Collins area, "and if people do not choose to drive to Denver or Boulder or somewhere to get their product, we're going to have hundreds and hundreds of grows going on in Fort Collins residences. I don't think that's what the people who voted for 300 thought they were voting for, but it was an inevitable consequences. We actually said that to people before the election. If the licenses go away -- if this is just people having a good time at the university -- or if people are able to get their product out of the two dispensaries in the county or other places not too far away, that's one thing. But if they start hundreds of grows in residential neighborhoods -- if they start smelling something coming from their neighbor's garage -- people are going to come to us and say, 'Why are you allowing this?' And we'll just say, 'We're allowing this because you told us to.'"

There's also the possibility of increased black market activity. Manvel recounts a conversation a friend shared with him involving a man who "was really rooting for the ban to pass, so he could get back in the marijuana business. He said the dispensaries had really hurt his business, but he was ready to start back up.

"People don't want stores on the corner, but what about the criminals in the back lots?" he asks. "The dysfunctionality and irrationality of our marijuana laws from the feds down to the locals is just astounding. One lady at the council meeting just ranted at us about how we're boasting about all our breweries and distilleries even though alcohol is ruining our society, and yet we're going after people peacefully smoking a joint in a back room. And I thought, 'She's kind of got that right. We really are screwed up.'"

In Manvel's view, "Alcohol prohibition didn't work, and marijuana prohibition isn't going to work, either. So the sooner we can get the right rules in place for people who need this, the better. There are a lot of nuances to this issue, and it's not easy given all the constraints. We want people to be safe, and we particularly want children to be safe. But what's the best way to do this? And are there really people on both sides who are of good motive and good character and want to solve the challenges we have, which is to make all these conflicting laws work together?

"That's what we're trying to do," he emphasizes, "and I don't think we've done really well so far, frankly. But we'll keep working on it."

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana dispensary ban vote could cost city jobs, $1000s in taxes, says center owner."