Medical marijuana: Could most of Colorado Springs' MMJ biz be zoned out of existence?

Last week, we told you about a Colorado Springs planning commission meeting that had the potential of essentially outlawing 69 medical marijuana centers, or 41 percent of the city's total.

How did it go? According to Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council president Tanya Garduno, worse than she feared. "It was a sad, sad, pathetic meeting," she says. "Pretty much every center in the city is in trouble right now."

Quite a crowd showed up to express their antipathy toward the commission's approach. Garduno estimates that twenty business owners were in attendance, as well as numerous patients, advocates and the like. But they didn't get the chance to speak their peace.

"The very first thing they did was tell us there would be no public statements," Garduno notes. "They said we could wait until December 14," when the Colorado Springs City Council will consider the commission's recommendations. "That was pretty rough to take right at the beginning -- to be told that no new information could be presented that might sway the decision they were making."

To add insult to injury, Garduno says, the proposals presented were considerably stricter than a previously circulated working version of the document. Policies in place since May had established a 400-foot buffer between medical marijuana dispensaries and public or private K-12 schools and preschools. The commissioners extended that distance to 1,000 feet and added colleges, universities and seminaries to a mix written in such broad terms that "the beauty school down the street would be considered a college," she maintains.

Another alteration: Whereas the May rules applied the 400-foot buffer to alcohol-and-drug rehabilitation centers that offered 24-hour care, the new edition establishes the 1,000-foot distance to any rehab center. "And they also said, 'If you're in a commercial space, you can have no more than 20 percent of your floor space or 1,200 square feet, whichever is smaller, for grow area," she continues. "So they're saying 'sorry' to all those people who have grows and centers combined. They also disallowed centers in manufacturing areas and in PUD [planned unit development] zones -- and if you have a building that was built after 1986, you're pretty much in a PUD zone."

What would these directives mean to MMJ businesses if they're passed by the city council?

"There are 22 facilities in industrial areas that would be forced to close," Garduno estimates, "and 92 grow areas within commercial areas that would have to close. They've very selected worked to make almost every area unavailable to us. There might only be a handful of centers in the entire city that would be able to stay open."

Garduno's take on why the commissioners took such a hard line?

"They think it's their job to protect the culture and morality of Colorado Springs," she says. "I thought they were supposed to be unbiased, but they were very clear this had nothing to do with fairness for patients or business owners. They all have their own personal agendas."

As a result, Garduno and her allies now must hope a majority of the city council will reject the planning commission's recommendations -- and she believes a handful of council members, including Sean Paige, Tom Gallagher and Bernie Herpin, may oppose ripping up rules that have been working fine for the past six months, in her view. But even if these three do so, MMJ backers will need a couple of more allies to insure that the nine-member council doesn't simply rubber stamp the commission's proposal.

Until the crucial December 14 meeting, Garduno and other representatives of the Colorado Springs MMJ community will be lobbying officials against risking the loss of thousands in revenue, as well as dozens of potential lawsuits, in what she sees as a biased crusade against the industry as a whole.

In the meantime, "we'll keep functioning as good neighbors in Colorado Springs," she says, "and hope the city council will appreciate the industry for who we are and what we've been trying to do to help the community."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana ban in El Paso County loses -- not that officials were eager to offer updates."