Almost immediately after the passage of HB 1284, a bill to regulate the medical marijuana industry, and SB 109, intended to clarify the relationship between doctors and MMJ patients, attorneys like Jessica Corry made it known that lawsuits would challenge numerous provisions, including language allowing communities to ban dispensaries.
That's not scaring off the Aurora City Council. Although a moratorium remains in effect, councilman Bob Broom says, "we assessed this and asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance with ballot language to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, commercial grow operations and facilities that use marijuana to make products for future use."
These plans were agreed upon during a study session over the weekend. But Broom notes that the council "has been watching this for a number of months. We put a moratorium on them the last time, because we wanted to wait for the state legislature; we didn't want to do anything that would conflict with what they came up with. But when they came up with their final law, we decided it was time to move forward."
In addition to pushing for a ballot measure, the council also extended its moratorium until June 2011 just in case things don't go as planned. "If the voters pass a ban, then it's banned, and we'll just have to deal with caregivers" -- meaning individuals who are permitted to provide medical marijuana to as many as five patients, as specified in Amendment 20, which legalized MMJ in Colorado. "If it doesn't pass, then we'll have to have some kind of ordinance dealing with regulating the other facilities, which will primarily be a zoning issue in my eyes."
HB 1284 says that dispensaries and the like can be banned by communities either through action by local government or via a vote of the people. Since the Aurora council is clearly anti-dispensary, a simple vote by these representatives would seem to be the most reliable way to turn the moratorium into a permanent ban -- but some observers believe this move might be more likely to attract a legal challenge than would a vote of the people.
Was this a factor in the decision to take the issue to the November election? Broom says "no." As he acknowledges, Aurorans voted in favor of Amendment 20, as did a majority of citizens across the state. "so it didn't make sense for the council to make that decision," he says. "We thought we should go back to the voters again."
As for Broom, he thinks dispensaries would be bad for Aurora for a couple of reasons.
"One thing that really concerns me, and has from the beginning, is that marijuana is an illegal substance at the federal level," he says. "How in the world can you have a state law that overrides the federal law?"
That's not to say he rejects the possibility that marijuana might have some medicinal benefits: "I'm not totally black-and-white on this," he maintains. "But when you combine drugs and money at various locations, I think you're going to end up with, if not armed robberies, then break-ins at night and all kinds of things like that, which will put an additional burden on our police department and our court system."
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Likewise, he feels that by forcing Aurorans who use medical marijuana to deal with a caregiver who can only assist a handful of patients, "it kind of puts the lid on people who are just getting cards for recreational usage."
Because it's among Denver's largest suburbs, Aurora could well be first in line for lawsuits -- and, in addition, court challenges in other municipalities might be applied to the council's actions. "We did discuss that a little bit," Broom allows. "And the city council has the ability up until September 3 to pull the election question. Then we could have a special election sometime next spring if things came up that might make us pause. And the ordinance has to wind its way through our public safety committee, and then come back to the city council after they put their finishing touches on it. And you never know what information you might learn as it goes through that process. We just want to keep our options open."
At the same time, though, Broom says questions about medical marijuana can't be put off for long.
"I've talked to county commissioners and city councilmen from other places, and they say, 'We're going to wait and see as long as we can,'" he recalls. "That's one way of doing things -- but eventually you're going to have to deal with it. And we think we need to deal with it right away."