Medical marijuana dispensary ban invites problems even if it's right, says councilman

A dispensary ban in Colorado Springs seems bound for the November ballot -- but this development leaves Springs city council member Darryl Glenn torn.

On the one hand, he agrees with Attorney General John Suthers that Amendment 20 didn't authorize dispensaries -- but he thinks an outright ban could lead to a lengthy court fight nonetheless.

Last week, Glenn co-hosted a town hall meeting on the MMJ issue that drew proponents on both sides of the issue -- among them Steven Wind, who's pushing the ballot measure to ban dispensaries, as well as dozens of medical marijuana boosters.

The turnout didn't surprise Glenn, who notes that "since 2009, we have over 170 dispensaries in El Paso County. We've seen an enormous increase, and that's what accounts for the great interest in this issue."

As for Glenn, he doesn't pretend to be neutral. "I believe there's ambiguity in the amendment, and I'm trying to get people focused on that, instead of whether or not we should ban medical marijuana businesses."

The question of whether medical marijuana should have been legalized in the first place is moot at this point: "The voters have spoken on that," he says. But he thinks the document is "vague with regard to the definition of a caretaker, and whether or not a dispensary can serve as a caretaker.

"When I'm looking at the appellate case that's gone before" -- a reference to the ruling in the matter of caretaker Stacy Clendenin -- "it clearly showed that a caretaker must have a relationship with a patient. There's a lot more involved than just being a dispensary owner. So for people to say, 'There's a constitutional right to be in the medical marijuana dispensary business,' I believe that's factually wrong. And I'm telling people, 'Let's talk about that. Let's clear that up.' Because I'm not willing to create licenses and zoning for these businesses when, in my opinion, it's still illegal to do that."

Trouble is, Glenn concedes, this viewpoint is harder to articulate than simpler rhetoric about either allowing dispensaries or banning them. Moreover, he says, "if you go with absolute prohibition, you're not solving the problem. All you're doing is encouraging litigation."

Glenn believes a lawsuit would ultimately backfire on those who maintain that "Amendment 20 gives you an absolute right to distribute medical marijuana that extends to dispensaries. I think that would prove to be wrong in court. By if you know that's going to happen, why not try to fix the issue? Otherwise, if the community adopts the ban, the proponents are going to sue, and if it goes the other way, the people who want the ban are going to sue. You're basically picking a fight."

The dispensary question is hardly the only aspect of the medical marijuana industry that concerns Glenn. "There are property rights associated with this -- like do you want your neighbor to grow marijuana and you have to deal with all the problems that are associated with that."

Moreover, he's not convinced that tax dollars generated by dispensaries are an unalloyed good for dispensaries. "I've never seen a detailed net-benefit analysis that compares those revenues to the extra costs to the police department for service calls in relation to burglaries or those kinds of things."

In the meantime, though, Glenn is trying his best to get residents of Colorado Springs and others throughout the state to focus on dealing with the amendment rather than a yea-or-nay vote on dispensaries like ones that'll be on ballots in Aurora and Douglas County -- and probably the Springs, too.