Medical marijuana: Council's new grow rules will push ops out of Denver, attorney predicts

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Despite a threatened lawsuit aimed at councilwoman Judy Montero and developer Mickey Zeppelin, the Denver City Council approved new medical marijuana grow operation regulations last night with no changes. But MMJ attorney Warren Edson predicts that the bill on view below will backfire, with businesses locating outside Denver rather than deal with the uncertainty the rules impose.

Yesterday, councilman Doug Linkhart was working hard to gain support for an amendment that would have lengthened the span between licensure of MMJ grows and a mandatory review from two years to four. But in the end, he came up short.

The amendment had previously been voted down seven votes to six, but Linkhart was hopeful that either fellow council members Michael Hancock or Jeanne Robb would flip to his side. Indeed, he told Westword yesterday that Robb actually inspired him to offer the change only to withhold her support.

That's not the way Robb tells the tale in a subseqent call to Westword. "I actually said in committee that I thought the amendment, which we had already debated in committee the week prior, made more sense than the other two he had brought that day, neither of which got out of committee and had very little support," she said. "So he went ahead and put an amendment on the floor that we had already debated in council, and he did pick up some votes. But it was nothing I had obligated myself to vote for."

She didn't back the amendment last night, either. According to Edson, "There was this weird tap dance between Linkhart and [councilman] Charlie Brown, where Charlie said, 'Do you want to reintroduce it?' And he said he wouldn't reintroduce it unless he had the support of seven people, and he hadn't been able to change any minds."

As a result, the mandatory reviews will take place every two years -- and in Edson's opinion, the prospect of being uprooted may scare off many of the 52 growers impacted by the bill, and cause others to steer clear of Denver.

"Why would I advise any of my clients to invest money in Denver, in a questionable place, when they can go to other communities around Colorado?" he asks. "Unincorporated El Paso County accepted these businesses in the November election, and there's lots of space there. And Pueblo accepted these businesses in the election; they're working out the rules, and there's lots of space there, too. If Denver wants to become a regulatory nightmare, they'll just be driving business somewhere else."

Edson also had concerns about the cost of licenses in Denver -- they're more than twice as expensive as their state counterparts -- and the lack of a hard-and-fast definition of drug and alcohol treatment centers, from which MMJ operations must now be at least 1,000 feet distant. Yet he says none of this came up for conversation. The meeting got underway at 5:30 p.m., and "with no public comment and no real debate about amendments, I think we were out of there by 6:15," he says.

The adopting of the two-year review presumably means Curt LeRossignol won't be providing land for a city park; LeRossignol, who leases warehouse space to grows, threatened to withdraw his offer of a donation to the city unless the four-year rule was accepted. A mention of this situation in today's Denver Post might make "average Joe Reader" think LeRossignol is being churlish, Edson believes -- but, he adds, "I don't know that I'd be doing favors for the city, either, when they're taking away my property rights without an apparent reason.

"We're still not seeing lines of people complaining about these grows," he continues. "There was some grumbling from RiNo and some other districts, but we're also seeing increased employment. And if this was an eyesore-of-the-week kind of thing, we'd be seeing photos of grows with their roofs falling in, and we're not. But we're still passing draconian measures that are like nothing we've imposed on any other businesses."

Not that the measure is as bad as it could have been. "There was some compromise here," Edson acknowledges. "Just not enough."

Page down to read the final version of the new regulations.

Denver City Council revised municipal code for medical marijuana businesses:

More from our Marijuana archive: "Developer Mickey Zeppelin responds to charges that he revealed locations of growhouses."

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