Medical marijuana ordinance in Boulder: Thoughtful regulation or war on mom-and-pop dispensaries?

Even as protesters complain about the repercussions of Denver's medical marijuana ordinance, the City of Boulder is on the cusp of making permanent its own procedures. A first reading of proposed regulations will be heard at tonight's Boulder City Council meeting.

The folks at the Cannabis Therapy Institute are encouraging advocates to protest the measure; see CTI's detailed complaints about it below. But Kathy Haddock, Boulder's senior assistant city attorney, who's taken a leading role in assembling the document, doesn't think the measure will result in the closure of any Boulder dispensary -- of which, by her count, there are currently 63.

Haddock runs through the basics of the document:

"There's a licensing component and a location component and an operational component," she reveals. "The land use part says a dispensary can locate any place where personal services or greenhouses and nurseries are approved uses."

The distance requirements aren't as restrictive as Denver's, Haddock notes: "Ours is 500 feet between schools and dispensaries, and no more than four dispensaries can be within 500 feet. So basically that means the fourth one can't locate there."

The application for a license "looks a lot like the application for a liquor license," she goes on. "Applicants have to disclose everyone who has more than a 10 percent ownership in the business and show that you have the right to the premises. That was important because, before, people were applying for business licenses at three or four different locations and then trying to sell the licenses to locations they didn't plan to use.

"People also have to submit a business plan, showing what they're going to do for security, and where marijuana and cash will be stored overnight. People have made the comment that these businesses are more like pharmacies or liquor stores, so all of the requirements we have in this part are required of pharmacies or liquor establishments."

Like Denver's ordinance, Boulder's measure includes a good moral character requirement, as well as background checks. But a past criminal record doesn't necessarily mean automatic rejection. "People can submit whatever they want about any rehabilitation they may have gone through, or any recovery that they've undergone since criminal charges," Haddock points out, adding that "the clerks will be going through everything, but we're making it pretty objective -- so it's not a discretionary decision by the clerk."

Other details:

"The dispensary has to be in a building. It can't be in a cart on the mall. And we don't allow them within a dwelling unit or within a residential-zoned district. The exception is for your personal use -- if you're a patient growing your own or a caregiver growing for one other patient. But if you're growing for more than one person, we consider that a business. And that includes marijuana grows as well as dispensaries.

"We do have established hours of operation: A dispensary can be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. They can't use any pesticides that you couldn't use on food, and you have to ventilate properly. Owners and caregivers can deliver to patients, and they have to maintain records and make some reports at the end of the year so we have some idea of what's going on. Like many businesses, dispensaries will be subject to audit.

"Dispensaries have to have cameras on the premises and keep recordings for 72 hours -- and they have to report any criminal activity or attempts at criminal activity within twelve hours.

"Ingestible items have to be made in a kitchen that meets the requirements of a food establishment, and they have to be sealed and labeled.

"There's also a section of prohibited acts, like using medical marijuana in a public place -- and we define what constitutes a public place. You can't obtain it and distribute it to somebody, and you can't use marijuana or any alcoholic beverages within a medical marijuana business." In other words, on-site consumption is verboten.

No doubt many of these individual rules strike CTI as problematic -- but the organization's statement about the Boulder proposal focuses on costs, suggesting that fees and other requirements will make it impossible for smaller operations to stay in business. For her part, Haddock sees the pricing structure as reasonable.

"The fees involved are $3,000 for the license and $3,000 for the application," she says. "The application is a one-time thing, and the license fee is $3,000 for the first year and $2,000 for each year after that." Staffers arrived at these amounts after "council asked for this to pay its own way, and we figured out the costs as best we could. And our fees are actually cheaper than for anyone who would want to get a retail liquor store license, a hotel-and-restaurant license or a tavern license."

She quotes the fee for a retail liquor store at $3,498 and a hotel-and-restaurant or tavern license at $6,403. Those prices are set by state law, she says.

CTI argues that the rules will result in the closure of many Boulder dispensaries. Haddock has her doubts about that.

"We looked at whether this would effect any existing licensed operation that we know of, either through zoning limitations or anything else -- and we're not aware of any existing ones that would be prohibited," she says.

"Obviously, it's their determination from a financial basis. But at least on a land-use basis or the other requirements we have, absent if they can afford it, I don't think there's any regulation that would keep any of the existing dispensaries out."

For a very different take, look below to read the aforementioned CTI statement, which includes details about tonight's meeting:

Boulder City Council Meeting Tuesday (3/2)

Tues., March 2, 2010 6:00 pm Boulder City Council Meeting WHAT: Discuss permanent medical marijuana dispensary ordinance ACTION: Please show up to testify against the proposed ordinance. We would like the City Council to form the Boulder Compassionate Medical Cannabis Commission, composed of patients, caregivers, physicians, advocates, city officials and law enforcement officers, instead of enacting their proposed ordinance that will harm patients.

LOCATION: Council Chambers Municipal Building (second floor) 1777 Broadway, Boulder, CO Southwest corner of Broadway and Canyon.

BACKGROUND Here is a description of the proposed regulations:

Cannabis Therapy Institute Statement

The proposed City of Boulder medical marijuana ordinance would make running a medical marijuana business one of the most expensive and burdensome in Boulder. The ordinance would add tens of thousands of dollars to running a medical marijuana business, including the costs of additional application fees, license fees, architect's drawings, security and record-keeping requirements. The ordinance also allows unannounced police inspections, increasing a medical marijuana caregiver's legal fees by thousands of dollars a year.

The ordinance will eliminate at least 50% of the caregivers in Boulder, force caregivers to raise their prices, and make the black market become cheaper than operating legally. This will not solve any "problems," but will rather force patients back into the black market to obtain their medicine cheaper.

The Boulder ordinance caters to a rich mega-Walmart-dispensary model and would prohibit smaller caregivers from operating lawfully as they are now. The Boulder City Council is apparently unaware of the fact that the most unique and innovative strains of cannabis and useful medicinal preparations of cannabis (tinctures, salves and edibles for arthritis, glaucoma, and pain management) are coming out of small caregiving businesses. This kind of diversity will be lost to patients with the passage of the Boulder ordinance.

The Cannabis Therapy Institute proposes instead that the City Council form the Boulder Compassionate Medical Cannabis Commission, composed of patients, caregivers, physicians, advocates, city officials and law enforcement officers. The Commission would be charged with developing a patient-centered approach to cannabis regulation. Instead of enacting yet another Law Enforcement Ordinance, the City of Boulder should become the leader in developing compassionate regulation that solves the real problems that patients are actually having, such as cost of medicine and continued discrimination.


"Nothing About Us Without Us!" Urge the City Council to form the Boulder Compassionate Medical Cannabis Commission to first study and define what the "problem" is, and then to develop compassionate regulations that work for patients, while still keeping the community safe.

Email the Boulder City Council:


The Boulder's proposed medical marijuana ordinance is modeled on the City's liquor licensing laws. Here are some of the more onerous provisions. The ordinance would:

• Require licensing and application fees from $4,000 to $6,000 This will put small caregivers out of business and prohibit new small businesses from opening. This favors the well-funded mega-Walmart dispensaries, not the local mom-and-pop shops that are now helping thousands of patients in Boulder and providing medicines unique to each caregiver.

• Allows the City Manager to deny the application of someone who is not of "good moral character."

• Require that all distribution of medical cannabis is done by the patient's primary caregiver. This provision might prohibit primary caregivers from hiring employees to work in their facilities. All transactions would have to be done by one person in the business. This is a onerous and burdensome regulation that makes no sense.

• Limit the density of medical marijuana facilities so there can be no more than 3 within 500 feet. The average city block is 200 to 250 feet, so this would significantly limit the opportunities for smaller caregiving businesses to cluster together in the same area or office building. Since this requirement was only enacted in order to preserve the diverse nature of Boulder's retail storefronts, the provision should be eliminated for businesses that are not *visible* from the street. It should only apply to *visible* businesses.

• Limit the size of businesses to 3000 square feet or less. This is an arbitrary limit that will unnecessarily stifle businesses from expanding to better serve their patient communities.

• Require individual security systems, including 24-hour security cameras. In certain businesses, such as those located in a secure office building or complex, this is another unnecessary burden that will force caregivers to raise their prices and patients back into the black market.

• Allow unannounced searches of dispensaries by law enforcement without warrant or probable cause. The business would have to keep track of every gram that came in or out of the business, and these records would have to be open to inspection at any time by law enforcement. This will significantly increase administrative and legal costs of running a legal caregiving business.

• The business would have to prove that "no more marijuana was in the medical marijuana business than allowed by applicable law for the number of patients who designated the medical marijuana business holders as their primary caregiver."


Description of the proposed regulations:

Meeting agenda

Here is a history of the process in Boulder:


If you can't attend the hearing in person, you can watch the hearing at home on local Channel 8, or an online live stream.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts