Medical marijuana dispensary victory in Castle Rock: Town backs down

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On Monday, we updated you on the story of Plants 4 Life, a Castle Rock medical marijuana dispensary that had received a business license from the town only to be prevented from selling its main product because weed is illegal under federal law.

At the time, Lauren Davis, Plants 4 Life's attorney, was optimistic that Castle Rock would reverse its previous ruling, in part because of a decision in another of her cases: An Arapahoe County judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by CannaMart, a dispensary that had been shut down by the City of Centennial under the same reasoning.

Turns out her confidence was well-founded. Yesterday, Castle Rock town clerk Sally Misare sent Davis a letter (read it here) reversing the previous decision, thereby allowing Plants 4 Life to sell medical marijuana again. Here's the key passage:

Upon review of Ms. Davis's January 5, 2010 letter, and having otherwise familiarized myself to the extent I was able with the factual and legal basis for the Arapahoe County District Court's ruling in the Frasher case, I find the December 19, 2009 Order revising this Business and Tax License should be amended to address this recent legal development, which appears to be the first decision by a court of any level in Colorado addressing the authority of local governments to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries on the basis that the activities conducted by these businesses violate federal law.

This wasn't the only medical marijuana-related action taken by Castle Rock. As the letter notes, the town council voted on Tuesday to impose a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses pending the development and adoption of necessary regulations. However, Plants 4 Life was specifically exempted from this moratorium -- meaning that, as of now, it's the only medical marijuana dispensary doing business in Castle Rock, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.

In one of the blogs linked above, Davis said that her clients were considering the possibility of filing a lawsuit even if the original order was reversed in order to recoup income lost due to the license's revocation. At this point, "they're considering it," she notes, "but we're not sure whether we'll go forward with the lawsuit at this point. They're just relieved that Castle Rock has decided to stop violating their constitutional rights -- and they're back to selling medical marijuana as we speak."

Nonetheless, Davis allows, Plants 4 Life rang up lots of unwarranted expenses due to the town's action -- and its clients bore an even greater burden. "In the interim, they had to drive their patients up to Denver to get medicine. So a bunch of patients suffered in the interim."

Davis believes the town decided to back down in large part because "Castle Rock city attorney Bob Slentz is a very smart guy. He conferenced about the judge's ruling and he realized that they could not rely on federal law to violate Colorado constitutional rights. But, unfortunately, one city attorney understanding that doesn't mean all city attorneys get it."

By way of example, she mentions Thornton.

"There's not a lawsuit in Thornton yet," she says. "But one of our clients has been trying to get a business license there for probably six months now. And the Monday after the Centennial ruling, the client went down there and said, 'You can't rely on federal law anymore. This is what happened in Centennial,' and reapplied for a business license. But the sales tax clerk said, 'We're not going to give you one.' So I now need to call the city attorney there and give them a notice of intent to sue. So Thornton may be the next place where we'll have to fight."

After that? Davis cites Gunnison County, which is "relying on the same federal-law rationale. They've banned everything, including home grows for individual patients, and that's highly unconstitutional. Even Centennial conceded that they couldn't ban that."

As for Castle Rock, she says, "We're relieved they're going to comply with constitutional law without us having to sue them. We don't want to have to sue -- but we also have to protect constitutional rights not just on behalf of our clients but also on behalf of licensed patients across the state. There's a much bigger issue here, and that's a patient's right to choose medicine with their doctor that's appropriate to treat their medical conditions. So we're glad we don't have to sue to enforce that right in Castle Rock -- because we shouldn't have to."

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