Medical marijuana petition forces Broomfield council dispensary ban onto November ballot

The Broomfield City Council recently voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the community rather than place the issue on November's ballot. That didn't sit well with MMJ advocates in the area, who launched a petition drive earlier this month. The goal: collect 1,300 signatures -- the number needed to make council members reconsider their decision or put the question up for a vote. And they succeeded.

Thanks to 1,500 signatures gathered, Broomfield residents will be able to decide about the subject for themselves. That outcome pleases Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente.

"I think it shows the power of citizens," he says. "When concerned citizens get together, they can overturn the will of the local government to place an important issue on the ballot -- and that happened in this case.

"Clearly, there are many compassionate folks in Broomfield, who feel there should be dispensaries -- or who at the very least feel voters should be able to decide about safe access to medicine in their community."

The Broomfield city council was well within its rights to pass such a prohibitions. HB 1284, the medical marijuana regulatory measure signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter, allows community's to choose between rulings by elected officials or ballot measures. In a July interview, Broomfield councilwoman Linda Reynolds argued in favor of council taking on the topic.

"We were elected as officials to represent our constituents," she said at the time, "and sometimes, elected officials put things on the ballot in order not to make those decisions -- and I don't think that's right. We were elected to make those decisions, and some of them are tough decisions."

Vicente's take? "Often council people will hear from concerned citizens who aren't representative of the larger community. Colorado has a constitutional amendment and several state laws that protect dispensaries, and at the end of the day, I think most Coloradans support the safe-access dispensary model. It may take some time for that to set in for local politicians."

As for whether the people who feel as Vicente does about the issue constitute a majority in Broomfield, he concedes that "we haven't done any polling. But certainly the fact that over 1,500 citizens came together to sign this petition in a matter of weeks shows there's significant support for dispensaries in that community."

Sensible Colorado provided some "strategic support" for the petition gathering, and may be able to boost the campaign to some degree. But he admits that resources are an issue. He notes that "we're a nonprofit organization with a small staff, so it's tough for us to choose our battles."

Example: Aurora also has a medical-marijuana dispensary ban on the ballot this fall.

"It's the third-largest city in the state," Vicente points out, "and many, many patients there could really benefit from medical marijuana centers, which could also provide jobs and much-needed tax revenue to the community. So we're certainly looking at a campaign there. But at the same time, it would be rather expensive given the scale and size of that community. So that's still on the table."

From Vicente's viewpoint, it would be much simpler if the HB 1284 language allowing communities to nix dispensaries could be eliminated. "I think the local ban provision has set up a patchwork quilt across Colorado," he says, "where you have some communities that allow dispensaries, some that ban them, and some that have moratoriums. It's confusing for patients and confusing for lawmakers. So the local ban provision is one area we'd like to see addressed at the statehouse in this upcoming session."

He'll also be keeping at eye on a lawsuit challenging the medical marijuana ban in Westminster , which attorney Sean McAllister believes could set a precedent statewide.

"I think they have a pretty strong constitutional argument," Vicente says. "Our original medical marijuana law is in our state constitution, and that law protected the safe-access dispensary model. For cities to act in opposition to that by banning dispensaries is to, I think, act unconstitutionally. And we'll see that play out in court."

In the meantime, Vicente feels that the successful petition drive in Broomfield "sends a message to other Colorado politicians who are considering banning safe access to medicine. It shows them this may not be a popular view in their community, and they're better off leaving it to their citizens to decide."

Page down to read the Sensible Colorado release about the Broomfield petition:

Historic Action: Colorado Citizens Overturn Local Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ban

Citizens in Broomfield turn in over 1500 signatures to overturn local ban and send issue to voters in November.

BROOMFIELD, CO -- On Tuesday, August 31, the Broomfiled City Council voted to place a question on the November ballot to allow local voters to decided whether to permit medical marijuana dispensaries or not. This vote occurred after local voters turned in over 1500 signatures opposing a local ban on these centers which the City Council enacted in July 2010.

"Hundreds of sick patients who live in Broomfield deserve safe access to their constitutionally protected medicine at centers tightly regulated by the Colorado Department of Revenue," stated Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado Action which provided funding and strategic support for the local campaign. "Sensible Colorado Action is proud to support the Broomfield citizens who stood up to City Council over the last month and collected the signatures necessary to force the Council to suspend it's ill conceived ban," continued Vicente.

"Today's victory for patients' safe access to medicine should be a warning to other local politicians who think they can infringe upon the constitutional and statutory rights of Colorado's nearly 150,000 medical marijuana patients," stated Vicente.

On November 2, 2010, Broomfield voters will decided whether to uphold this suspension of the local ban.

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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