Medical marijuana: Longmont City Council moves toward dispensary ban

Last night, the Longmont City Council held a first reading of an ordinance that would ban medical marijuana centers in the city and restrict medical marijuana patients and primary caregivers. Judging from the 7-0 vote in favor of the ban, dispensary days are limited in Longmont.

The council will hold a second reading on May 24, and if the ban is approved then, all medical marijuana centers would have to close by July 1. Primary caregivers would still be allowed to grow marijuana plants, but the ordinance would limit them to no more than twelve plants and 150 square feet of grow space.

At the hearing last night, the council listened to an hour and a half of public commentary from medical marijuana patients, dispensary owners and citizens -- both for and against the measure.

"Your heart breaks for folks that marijuana does do some good for," councilman Gabe Santos tells Westword. "But unfortunately, with the Controlled Substance Act, it's against federal law. Some of it was very passionate. I've read research about how marijuana helps cancer patients with chemotherapy. We had one young man who had half a lung taken out and medical marijuana has helped him with chemotherapy. We are affecting people's lives. However, the rule of law has come in.

"I understand the use of medical marijuana for some cancer patients and other ailments," he continues. "Unfortunately, the federal law states that distribution or sale of marijuana is against the law. I have stated numerous times that if people want to see medical marijuana legal there is a process to do that.

"I have no problem with a member of congress running a bill through the house or the senate and getting it passed and sending it to the President's desk for signature and declassifying marijuana so medical marijuana prescriptions could be written by an actual doctor," Santos continues. "It would be distributed through actual physicians. I believe that's probably the best course. But other than a voter approved, constitutional amendment, I don't see where that supersedes federal law."

Both Santos and councilwoman Katie Witt believe there may be changes to what primary caregivers are allowed to grow. Witt views the ordinance as a compromise.

"I did not want to see the commercialization of marijuana in Longmont, so we were trying to strike a balance between honoring the rights of Amendment 20 and the rights of our community," she says. "We wanted to make sure the patients and caregivers who need to be able to grow will be able to. I think that the fact that there was unanimous support for a ban as well as making sure patients' rights were being honored is very beneficial for our community."

Owners of medical marijuana centers have two paths of recourse: start a petition and collect signatures to place the issue on the ballot for public vote next fall or file a temporary restraining against Longmont, as attorney Rob Corry did in Loveland and Castle Rock.

"It's obviously ridiculous public policy," says Corry of Longmont's ordinance. "It will do the exact opposite of what the city council wants. It will cause an increase in home growing. It takes it out of regulated, taxed outlets and puts it in homes where children are."

Corry says he plans to file a temporary restraining order against Longmont and will work with medical marijuana dispensary owners to put the ordinance to a public vote.

The Longmont Times-Call reports there are seven dispensaries in Longmont with a sales tax license. Rocky Pederson, co-owner of New Age Wellness, has held his license since September 2009 and worries about the ordinance's effect on medical marijuana patients.

"It would be completely burdensome," he says. "For some patients it could lead to seriously harmful health issues. They would have to go to Boulder. A lot of our patients can walk into us. All that would be eliminated and they would have to go off and find a random person growing twelve plants in their basement."

Advocates for medical marijuana seem to be more concerned about creating a black market, but the issue might not be settled on the local level.

"Regardless of if there are dispensaries in the city of Longmont there is still a black market for marijuana," says Santos. "I don't believe these (dispensaries) are legitimate businesses. If I remember correctly the distribution and sale of marijuana is still illegal in the state of Colorado. If those that are advocating for medical marijuana would like to see it legitimized for pure medical purposes, there is a process. Take it up with the Feds, that's their job.

"The city of Longmont is stuck in between a rock and a hard place," he adds, "because state law says this and federal law says this and the municipalities are left to figure out where the wiggle room is."

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Kyle Garratt
Contact: Kyle Garratt