Medical marijuana: State fees for MMJ business licensing too high, says attorney Warren Edson

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Attorney Warren Edson didn't see anything too strange about the state fees for medical marijuana employee licensing when the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division announced them in March. He noted then that they were equal-to, if not less-than, similar costs in the gaming industry. But he says new fees for business licensing that went into effect July 1 are unreasonably high for dispensaries and marijuana infused product (MIP) facilities.

Julie Postlethwait, MMED spoksewoman, said the fees cover the costs of running the division, which does not get outside funding. The MMED has been charged with overseeing everything in the medical marijuana industry at the state level, from licensing to inspection of dispensaries, grow facilities and MIP kitchens.

Edson noted that centers with up to 500 patients are required to pay $8,750 annually, more than double the $3,750 charge required of centers with 300 patients. Centers serving more than 500 patients must also pay $14,000 for their license through the state. Other fees include a $2,750 on-site cultivation license and a $1,000 warehouse registration fee.

Not only are the fees high, Edson says, but they cover many of the same things that local municipalities already are doing. In Denver, for instance, both city and state inspectors will be checking in on dispensaries, grow houses and MIP kitchens. "The city is what? Three-grand a year?" Edson said, referring to Denver's two-year, $6,000 Medical Marijuana Center license. "Is there that much work needed to have the state do their work and the city to do their work? There isn't that double inspector thing with liquor... why does the state need to do what the city is already doing?"

The state also increased the amount that MIPs must pay from earlier drafts of the fee schedule. And while the MMED's $2,750 is lower than a proposed Denver city fee of $8,000, it's still too high for Cheesecake Lady Jessica LaRoux, owner of Twirling Hippie Confections. She says her four employees and locked-down facility, which isn't open to the public, hardly necessitate thousands of dollars worth of fees, especially when put in context with other nearby businesses.

She notes that PT's, a strip club near her secured kitchen, only pays $1,000 to the city for a cabaret license. According to the Department of Revenue, a new application for a liquor and club license through the state would be just under $1,050.

"I've never had the cops called to my business because of a fight, nobody has thrown up out front, and there aren't people getting a DUI leaving my parking lot," she said. "I wonder who is really using more of Denver's police and taxpayer resources, PT's or my bakery?"

According to Postlethwait, the fees will be assessed when business applicants are told they have passed all background checks, been approved by their municipality and cleared a site visit. LaRoux feels this gives an unfair advantage to dispensaries whose owners dragged their heels applying, as well as to those outside of the metro area told to wait to apply until satellite MMED offices have been opened in Ft. Collins, Fruita and Colorado Springs.

"That is going to penalize the people in the city who went out to the dog track first," she says. "We'll be expected to come up with those fees right away, while they'll still be way out for other [MMJ businesses]. That's fucked up."

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