Fort Collins group petitions to ban medical marijuana centers

If a group of Fort Collins residents gets its way, patient access to medical marijuana in the northern Colorado college town could be severely limited. The Concerned Fort Collins Citizens (CFCC) filed a petition to ban pot shops on Tuesday, handing in more than 7,500 signatures. If they're deemed legit, the Fort Collins City Council will hold a hearing on the request on August 16 -- and could decide to put a proposed ban on the ballot in November.

Terri Gomez, founder of Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods, which opposes the petition, notes that past city council decisions have pretty much favored medical marijuana businesses; she expects this to go to the voters.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there are 8,508 registered medical marijuana patients in Larimer County and roughly 11,000 in nearby Boulder County, where several cities have outlawed pot shops. That's made Fort Collins something of a pot-shop destination town, and banning shops in that town would severely curb the number of safe places to buy medicine, Gomez says.

CFCC is backed by Team Fort Collins, a group that claims marijuana use among teens and crime tied to marijuana in that town is directly related to the 21 dispensaries within city limits. According to its website, "Team Fort Collins' job in this community is substance abuse prevention and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. As such, we are acutely aware of the mounting evidence that marijuana use is increasing among Fort Collins' youth. We believe this is related to the recent advent of the retail sale and growing of medical marijuana."

But Gomez says there's little evidence to support CFCC's claims of increased crime. At a February city council meeting, acting Police Chief Jerry Schiager testified that no significant increase in crime could be directly tied to medical marijuana centers.

Gomez points out that the centers are secured, monitored heavily by the city and the state, and only sell to licensed patients. Driving the dispensaries out of business would mean that more patients would grow in their homes, subject to far fewer regulations than the shops are. Others would resort to the black market.

If the ban passes, she concludes, "it would be a travesty for our city residents except for this very narrow group of people."

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