Carol Boigon doesn't hate medical marijuana -- but she does have some issues with it

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At last night's Denver city council meeting, the member who seemed to have the most problems with a pot proposal that will get the public-hearing treatment next Monday was Carol Boigon. At one point, Boigon suggested that the council was moving too fast, as Patricia Calhoun reported this morning.

In an interview conducted some hours later, however, Boigon stressed that "speed is not the issue. In fact, I support speed." But after doing some research about medical marijuana in California, as well as in Colorado, she came to the conclusion that the measure assembled by fellow councilman Charlie Brown "needed to be a little stronger." She subsequently came up with a number of ways to beef it up, none of which were ultimately adopted -- but she feels they all have merit.

Boigon insists that she isn't anti-marijuana. "I'm not even opposed to legalization," she stresses. "I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the '60s, and I've seen every single permutation of this stuff. I've had friends among the walking wounded and fatalities of that era, so you can't surprise me about drugs. I know that chemistry has changed over the years and blah-blah-blah, but I've seen more than you'd think by getting to know me." Moreover, she's "a supporter of sick people getting the medicine that's appropriate."

At the same time, Boigon is troubled by "this hybrid we've created -- using the true need for medical marijuana as a wedge in the drawer for legalization. And because of that, it's hard to get the regulations right for both purposes. If we had really legalized medical marijuana so that doctors in good standing would feel comfortable writing prescriptions, we wouldn't be talking about how we can't guarantee the purity of the drug and how you've got to watch out for yourself out there.

"Instead of having fifteen doctors on restricted licenses approving most of the medical marijuana patients, we'd have real doctors on unrestricted licenses who would discipline themselves to best practices, knowing their patients, monitoring their treatment, looking for side effects and adjusting the prescriptions as need be, rather than a five-minute interview with a doctor you'll never see again. If you're dealing with people who have grave illnesses like MS or HIV or cancer, that's really dangerous."

Boigon is hopeful the state legislature will deal with these matters, which were also raised by Ned Calonge, Colorado's chief medical officer, in a recent Latest Word interview. But she also has other concerns, which she addressed in four amendments to Brown's proposal, one a two-parter. (Read them in their entirety here, here, here, here and here.) She synopsized her ideas in an e-mail to her fellow councilmembers as follows:

1. Dec. 1 date. For me, the later dates permit too many sites close to schools and preschools, as well as close to other locations that the City runs as attractions to unattended young people, usually in grades 4-9. I, of course, could support a "no grandfathering" option as Chris likely is proposing but not at the cost of giving up the spacing requirements, both between dispensaries and away from schools, preschools, etc.

2. Grow options:

Option A: no growing or processing in the dispensaries. These are agricultural and manufacturing uses and I think we should not allow them in some of the business zones and mixed use zones. They have noise, odor and hours of operation features that make them incompatible with other proximate uses in those zones, including nearby residential neighbors. However, in my view, those uses would fit in industrial and agricultural zones. I see the point that Judy Montero makes on greenhouses.

Option B: If A fails, I use language that returns us to the situation as it existed before the 2007 Naves ruling when the state rules were controlling. I did not know of major problems under that regime and it satisfies concerns raised by others that a plant or 2 visible as marketing and décor should not be objectionable. A is easier to enforce for police. B allows up to 30 plans: 15 drying and 15 growing (6 plants x 5 patients).

3. Distance from City youth facilities: Adds to the current list in the ordinance City libraries, rec centers and parks with athletic fields that are permitted. It uses the same measuring standards for walking distance as is used for schools and preschools and the same Dec. 1 date that I propose in No. 1, above.

4. Delivery vehicle security: Adds a requirement for a secured (bolted and welded to the chassis) lock box and a security plan to be filed with ex/lic that includes written procedures and training design for delivery personnel. We require the facility to be secured but leave a gaping hole in the security process once we decided to add delivery in place of using on site. By not dictating most details of the plan, we simply direct dispensary operators to develop a sensible plan, write it down, train their folks and provide ex/lic with a copy of that plan.

Out of a concern for time at last night's meeting, councilwoman Jeanne Robb asked Boigon to only introduce proposals that generated significant support from other members -- and just one of the four, dealing with grow options, met that standard. But let's examine all of her pitches in order, beginning with establishing the proposal's effective start date at December 1.

"That date was important for me," she says. "We're adopting these spacing requirements, and even using December 1, a lot of the already operating sites would be in violation of those 1,000 foot separations. If they were going to mean anything at all, we needed to go back as early as we could."

Instead, the council set December 15 as the cut-off, and she calls it a good compromise. Nonetheless, "for those dispensaries that opened prior to December 15, quite a few of them are in the orbit of high schools, middle schools, elementary schools and licensed childcare centers. And I try to look at this from a citywide perspective, because I'm an at-large councilman -- but others will need to look at things on a district-by-district basis." Once they do, "we may have to rethink things between now and the second meeting. But for now, I think it works pretty well."

Next: the aforementioned grow options, for which Boigon says "I was able to get some support. Because when you look at the kinds of complaints that have come out of the Los Angeles area, especially, and in San Diego, you find that grow operations had a higher nuisance value. There were issues around the amount of noise, the amount of smell, and what happened when there were other tenants in the building. And in our model, you couldn't separate retail from growing."

In her view, , "minimizing the agricultural-manufacturing aspects from the retail aspects makes good sense in Denver, especially when you're looking at 300 applications for dispensaries. And my two proposals would have done that. One of them said no growing at all in business zones, which is what some councilmembers wanted. Whereas others wanted a little bit to allow for demonstrating the product, working on drafting and hybriding varieties and working on seedlings on site. We were looking for some middle ground to get agreement to minimize agricultural and manufacturing uses in retail districts."

In the end, Boigon couldn't muster quite enough support; her amendment failed by a single vote. But she doesn't see it as dead. "People may reconsider things after the public hearing next week," she says. "And if not, the proposals are out there. The language has been developed, and if there's a need for a change, well, that's what we do on Monday nights."

Number three: requiring distance limitations between medical marijuana operations and city recreation centers.

"The issue of unattended children is a big one for me," Boigon maintains. "This is a special vulnerability in poor neighborhoods, but it's really true of all pre-adolescents. Their judgment isn't great, and a lot of problems get started when parents are at work. That's why the city tries to attract them to constructive activities like recreation centers, libraries, the athletic league. And I thought a little distance made sense, especially because of some of the strategies being used in California, like marketing to eighteen-year olds who then share with their friends, or subdividing the product into small enough amounts that they can sell it to others. I saw it as an effort to make this a family-friendly city, and because through these programs, the city is taking some responsibility when parents aren't around."

Her colleagues didn't bite. "There wasn't a lot of sentiment for that," she says. "I heard arguments that the measurement would be hard, or that we've done enough already with schools and childcare centers. So we'll see what happens. If it turns into a problem, we can revisit it."

Finally, Boigon was concerned about dispensary delivery vehicles, and the prospect of robberies centering on them.

"If we're going to have a substantial delivery program, it creates a vulnerability in transport from dispensary to patient -- and because there will likely be a lot of cash transactions, there could be a lot of money in those vehicles. Plus, marijuana isn't a product that loses value in the secondary market. When people hijack a delivery truck full of televisions, the street value of that item will be much less than its value in a store to a legitimate purchaser. A $5,000 TV may only be worth $500. But with marijuana, it can hold its value or even grow, and it's a very small, portable product."

Hence, she believes, "delivery vehicles could well be targets. So what I proposed was what they do in Detroit for pizza delivery -- a lockbox bolted to the chassis of the car or whatever the vehicle is, and a plan that requires the owners and operators of dispensaries to spend some time looking into a good security plan for delivery and a good training design for delivery personnel. That way, you've at least raised everybody's awareness about the next stage of security."

Unfortunately, from Boigon's perspective, "there wasn't much of a sentiment for that" among other council members, she concedes. "Some felt it might be a little bit too much regulation. So we'll see how things unfold. If I'm wrong, I'll be pleased to be wrong. If everything goes smoothly, with no issues, I think that would be great.

"We're all guessing about the best way to do this," she admits. "I'm making my guesses using analogies from what actually happened in California, and other people are analyzing things using standards that make sense to them. But we're guessing, because we haven't done this before." Still, "everyone has to take it seriously, and I would have felt irresponsible if I hadn't at least raised what I saw as gaps for my colleagues to consider, which they graciously did."

Her concern isn't about adopting a proposal too hastily, "but about getting things right, and that we do it in a way that creates safe, good neighbors and supports the quality of life in the community -- where these businesses are a good thing to have, and not a problem."

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