Marijuana: Fort Collins voters overturn dispensary ban

While Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, has received all of the pot press since election day, pro-dispensary voters in Fort Collins are celebrating a different win -- the victory of Measure 301, which overturns a ban on retail medical marijuana centers in city limits passed a year ago.

So, for those of you keeping score: Fort Collins originally allowed dispensaries, and its city council spent months coming up with regulations in 2010. Then, in 2011, the community voted to ban dispensaries during an off-year election. And now, a majority of voters (55 percent) say they want them back.

If that makes your head spin, imagine trying to run a pot business there.

We spoke with Measure 301 backer and former Organic Alternatives dispensary owner Steve Ackerman last June, as the Measure 301 campaign was kicking off. He told us that even if the bill were to pass, it would be a hard sell to get MMJ businesses back to town with the possibility of voters approving another ban a year later.

"My indication that I have gotten so far [from other owners] is that they certainly have not been showing a great degree of interest," he said at the time. "The way that it is set up with the local option, this could go on and on until somebody at the state level does something to change it. Maybe to say that it can only happen in presidential election years or something like that. Our hope is that the voters in the community will tire of it after two go-arounds with it, and say, 'Hey, this is a good thing for our community.'"

The new bill also sets a few more rules for dispensaries. Of course, they must be at least 1,000 feet from a school or daycare center (as the U.S. Attorney has made abundantly clear). But they also have to be more than 500 feet from churches and parks. The bill also sets a limit of one dispensary for every 500 registered patients in the city. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there were just over 5,000 patients in Larimer County. That would mean at most there could be as many as ten dispensaries in town, assuming every patient lives in city limits -- although that isn't likely. The CDPHE does not break down its data by city.

Ackerman says those who are going to open up will likely keep a lower profile and hopes that the added regulations prevent any future bans.

"One of the things we had going against us was not only seventy years of misinformation about marijuana, but the way that medical marijuana dispensaries came into being," he told us earlier this year. "It was somewhat of a free for all and a lot of people looked at the early days of dispensaries and said: 'We don't want this'. I can understand that and agree with them. But after the Department of Revenue got involved and set up regulations, it was a much different story than what was depicted by the [pro ban supporters].

"People don't want to see what you guys have in Denver," he said. "In Fort Collins, we'll have a different way of doing it here. It will be less in-your-face business."

More from our Marijuana archive circa February 2012: "Medical marijuana ban: All Fort Collins dispensaries must close by midnight."

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes