Medical marijuana: Denver City Council slowly moving forward with new regulations

A special-issues committee of the Denver City Council met today and discussed measures that could shut down an untold number of grow operations in the city. The committee met with stakeholders from Denver neighborhood associations and from various members of the medical marijuana community.

As Coloradoans for Medical Marijuana Regulation's Betty Aldworth told Michael Roberts yesterday, part of the proposal would eliminate grow operations in the city unless the operation has a retail outlet within Denver limits. Council members discussed whether they should grandfather some, if any, of those dispensaries into Denver -- and if so, should there be a time limit on how long they can remain in Denver.

Denver attorney Bob Hoban, who represents several medical marijuana businesses along with his partner, Jessica Corry, told the council members that because the state has required dispensaries to provide their own medicine, several shops in municipalities that have banned growing or no industrial areas found refuge in Denver. Shutting down their grows would essentially be shutting down their business, he maintained. Instead, he proposed that the city collect an additional fee for out-of-city dispensaries using Denver warehouse space to grow plants.

Most of the talk, however, focused on zoning issues as they pertain to mixed-use, urban neighborhoods. Neighborhood members from the RiNO Arts District and the Upper Larimer neighborhood conceded that they hadn't bargained for the type of mixed-use area that's grown around them. Take Brian Brainerd, who's lived in the Upper Larimer area for 26 years. He says his teenage sons have been offered drugs in the area, and while he acknowledges that grows likely wouldn't add to a criminal aspect to the dynamic, he is afraid their presence would create the impression that he lived in a "neighborhood where drugs are okay."

Others said grow facilities took advantage of a six-month grace period in nearby zoning alterations, in effect sneaking in before changes would have banned them.

Several dispensary owners argued that they have added value to the neighborhoods by bringing business back to warehouses that have sat vacant for as long as a decade. Nicholas King, owner of Alpine Herbal Wellness and director of the marijuana small business trade organization ACT for Colorado, said a survey his group conducted showed that small centers alone represent $200 million in business investments and roughly 5,000 jobs to the city of Denver. "If this were any other industry, the city would welcome us with open arms," he said.

The committee did move a proposed addendum to current public nuisance law that would include the "keeping, maintaining, controlling, rending or making available property" used for an unlicensed medical marijuana dispensary. Councilwoman Paula Sandoval said the bill gives the city power to go after the owner of the property and not just the people operating an unlicensed dispensary until laws go into effect on July 1, 2011 allowing for similar enforcement at the state level. The new city law would expire once the state laws go into effect. David Broadwell, assistant city attorney for special projects, said the action would put "another tool in the toolbox" of enforcement.

Councilman Charlie Brown, who heads up the special committee, said the group will start to hammer out the changes at the next meeting two weeks from now, although he expects it could be quite a while before a measure will be ready to put forward for council approval.

"It is time to put this on the table and put this out. I don't know if we are going to be able to vote on it at that time. It's really complex... it's tough," Brown said. "And what we would like to do is resolve it right here at the table instead of having any amendments on the floor."

The committee meets again December 15.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana restrictions: Councilwoman doesn't see residential grow limits as a hardship."

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