While members of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council are celebrating results showing that an El Paso County measure to ban medical marijuana businesses officially lost at the polls, they're already facing another potential crisis.
According to CSMCC president Tanya Garduno, a zoning change under consideration tomorrow could force the closure of 69 MMJ centers in the city -- 41 percent of the total.
Garduno says city planners put together a proposal in September that cemented many of the current rules under which Colorado Springs MMJ businesses have operated: a 400 foot buffer from K-12 schools, residential-zone restrictions and so on. However, she notes, "the city planning commission decided they wanted to have more time with that -- and that they wanted to increase the buffer zone to 1,000 feet and broaden the definition of schools to include preschools, colleges, universities and seminaries."
If this change goes into effect, nearly half of all centers in the city will be in violation of the rule, "and we're told grandfathering in isn't an option under the existing charter," Garduno continues. Moreover, "there's no option to relocate. Under HB-1284," the medical marijuana regulatory measure signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter in June, "we're required to stay in the same location and told not to attempt any expansion until July 1, 2011. That means the centers can't move, and all of them would be forced to go out of business."
What's motivating this policy shift? Hell if Garduno knows. "There's no real reason," she maintains. "We've had the 400-foot buffer since May of this year, and there's been no heightened crime in the area, no street fights with guns, no children coaxed into centers, no criminal or civic violations since this time. They've just put out this arbitrary number with no real justification, and it really doesn't make any sense."
CSMCC representatives will present this argument to the planning commissioners at the Thursday meeting. But Garduno fears that at least one of them -- Janet Suthers, wife of Colorado Attorney General and MMJ dispensary opponent John Suthers -- has already made up her mind.
"There are nine commissioners, but only seven of them will be in attendance and taking a vote -- and Janet Suthers has refused to tour one of these facilities," Garduno allows. "Most of the others have agreed to do that, but because marijuana is federally illegal, Suthers is refusing. And while I respect her opinion, I think she should remove herself from the discussion, because I don't think it's fair for her to regulate something she doesn't even acknowledge. It's like regulating car dealerships but saying, 'I don't want to go to a car dealership, and don't show me a car.'"
The meeting, which gets underway at 8:30 a.m. and could run throughout the day, is open to the public, "and we're definitely encouraging everyone to come out and make a statement, including patients," she goes on. "If you're a patient and your center is closed, you could be forced to move elsewhere even if you've formed a bond with the center. That can be scary for some patients."
And then there are the economic considerations.
"You're not looking at just shutting down 69 centers," Garduno says. "Those 69 centers have 69 leases, which means 69 new vacancies. And most of these places have off-site grow locations that would also be forced to close, so you can double that number. And from my experience, most centers employ between eight and 25 people. Even if you shoot low and say the average is ten people per center, you're looking at putting 700 people out of work for something that's not fixing any problem. No injury is being mitigated by this additional 600 feet."
Page down to get more details about tomorrow's meeting in a release from the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies:
Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies release:
ACTION ALERT, COLORADO SPRINGS!
Proposed Rules add unexpected 600 ft. separation from buildings, endanger up to 69 MMC's
DENVER, COLORADO -- 11/15/2010
The Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies (MMAPR) has received the following alert for all patients and MMC's in Colorado Springs. The Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council (CSMCC) has provided valuable information on the matter, detailed below. Please inform yourselves of how proposed rules could endanger patient access to affordable medicine, and what you can do to help.
The new proposed land-use regulations have been drafted and are on the web to be reviewed for the meeting next Thursday. I know that many of you are busy around the holidays and running your businesses but this is something I hope you will be able to make time for. The new doc states the below language you should be aware of:
"B. Expanded School Definition:
Staff recommended schools be defined as public or private schools providing classes for kindergarten through twelfth grade. The Planning Commission requested that the definition of a school be expanded to also include preschool and the principal campus of a college, university or seminary. As a result, approximately 200 preschools and 8 colleges are being added to the previous mapping and analysis effort to assist in understanding the impacts due to the expanded definition. (This information is currently being prepared and will be provided as an addendum to this report)."
"5. A Medical Marijuana Center (MMC) shall be located no less than one thousand feet (1000') from any school (C.R.S. 12-43.3-104 (15)); or the principal campus of a college, university, or seminary; and four hundred feet (400') from a residential child care facility and drug and/or alcohol treatment facility. This minimum distance shall be measured from the nearest portion of the building used for the medical marijuana facility to the nearest property line of the school, residential child care facility and/or drug and alcohol treatment facility using a route of direct pedestrian access"
This is a difference of 600 feet between schools and a center (compared to the pre-application) with the addition of pre-schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries at the 1000 feet. Initial investigation showed that there were 69 centers that will be in VIOLATION of this proposed regulation and with the addition of the other educational facilities, there are 208 more facilities with 1000 foot buffers that will ZONE MANY OUT OF BUSINESS. I've asked for numbers from city planning on how many more centers will be forced to close but I'm not sure they will have them prior to Thursday's meeting. This means hundreds out of people out of work, hundreds of broken leases, hundreds of various broken contracts, and thousands of patients left without their selected and trusted centers.
City Planning Commission Meeting
Date: 11/18/2010 Thursday
Location: Pikes Peak Regional Development Center -- Second Floor Hearing Room
2880 International Circle, Colorado Springs, CO 80910
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana licensing: Colorado scores $8 million from new business regulations."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.