Medical marijuana dispensary fight in Centennial goes on despite judge's ruling against city

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Last November, we told you about a lawsuit filed against the City of Centennial on behalf of CannaMart, a dispensary shuttered the previous month after the imposition of a ban within town limits. On December 30, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Christopher Cross ruled in CannaMart's favor -- and just over a week later, Castle Rock backed off of its attempt to close a dispensary there due in large part to Cross's decision.

However, CannaMart still hasn't been able to reopen because Centennial is now trying to use its zoning code to prevent it from operating. In CannaMart attorney Bob Hoban's view, "The city is entirely uninterested in working with us."

Here's the gist of the dispute, according to Hoban:

"Centennial continues to maintain that our clients are not located in the proper zoned district. We've gone through them to their staff and their attorneys, asking them to tell us what the proper zoned district is, because we can move our existing sales tax license to any other location the city tells us is appropriate -- and there's not a problem about finding a place, because there are so many vacancies in town. But the city responded by saying that currently no zoning allows for dispensaries."

As Hoban notes, Judge Cross's decision seemed pretty straight-forward: "You can't ban this business." But it's not as simple as that, he concedes. "The judge indicated that if we'd like the specific issue of zoning addressed, we have to amend our complaint to address it, because, the way he saw it, the zoning issue wasn't before him."

This situation is especially frustrating for Hoban, since he believes the zoning code where CannaMart is presently located suits the business perfectly.

"It's a medical professional office with accessory sales, and it's in an area where medical offices are allowed," he says. "But the city insists as pigeonholing it as a pharmacy. Now, CannaMart is not a pharmacy. [Colorado Attorney General] John Suthers has indicated that dispensaries aren't pharmacies, too. But Centennial continues to use this pharmacy definition. And when we ask, 'Can CannaMart reopen where pharmacies are allowed?,' the answer we've gotten is, 'Dispensaries aren't allowed anywhere.'"

The result, Hoban believes, is that "Centennial is essentially maintaining its ban of dispensaries, which we feel is improper. And they feel, somehow, that their moratorium applies to CannaMart. We don't believe that's true, and that may ultimately be what we have to litigate."

Why didn't CannaMart attempt to reopen immediately after the December 30 judgment? Hoban calls it "a business decision by my client. We didn't want the city to come back and issue cease-and-desist orders either on zoning or on any other issue they come up with in the future.

"The city seems to think it can change its rationale every time it wants to stop CannaMart, and that could go on endlessly. All we're trying to do is reopen so our clients can get medicine to patients, and Centennial continues to stand in the way of that."

Yesterday, a status conference was scheduled for late February in an attempt to sort out the issue -- but developments could move forward before then if Centennial appeals the original ruling. Depending upon what tack the city takes, the fight over this issue could proceed at the trial court or appeal level.

"If there's no appeal, we would set a trial date and narrow our claim," Hoban says. "We're presently looking at amending our complaint to additional claims for the zoning, and the city's attempt to apply the moratorium to CannaMart. And we're also looking at adding substantial additional damage claims to civil rights statutes under federal law, for clearly violating constitutional rights of all the plaintiffs involved."

Not that Hoban's eager for another fight.

"At the end of the day, our hope is that the city makes these folks partners and works with them," he allows. "But if not, we'll have to look about going to trial."

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