Medical marijuana: Will council grandfather MMJ grows that violate new zoning code?

At 2 p.m. today, the special issues committee of the Denver City Council will discuss an ordinance to adopt local licensing procedures for medical marijuana centers, infused product manufacturers and optional premises cultivation, aka MMJ grows -- many of which could be forced to close if they're not protected against new zoning rules via grandfathering.

As Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation executive director Betty Aldworth told us in November, the council is trying to get its rules in line with both state legislation to regulate the MMJ industry and its own new zoning code, which changed the guidelines for many already established grows. At a subsequent special issues committee meeting, councilman Charlie Brown talked about the complexity of the task at hand, and Christian Sederberg concurs. An attorney with Vicente Consulting, the firm led by marijuana advocate Brian Vicente, who declared yesterday in this space that Colorado Attorney General John Suthers needs to get a life, Sederberg's been closely monitoring the tweaks the council is considering -- and in his view, grandfathering in current operations complying with the previous zoning mandates is the best way to avoid chaos.

"If they aren't allowed to be grandfathered in or use the old zoning code, and if they have to qualify under the new zoning code, it could put people out of business in terms of their cultivation operation," he says. "That wouldn't necessarily put entire centers out of business, but it might, by putting their cultivation facilities out of business."

According to Sederberg, MMJ grows have been okayed in areas that permitted plant husbandry -- the creation of plants. "But under the old code, plant husbandry was allowed in certain industrial zones with no setback requirements. Under the new code, if you're under the industrial zone, you have to be set back 500 feet from residential in order to have a plant husbandry use. So if my place was 495 feet from residential under the old code, it was perfectly fine to cultivate medical marijuana there. But under the new code, I can't."

Another possibility: The council could ban grows that provide medical marijuana for centers outside Denver city limits.

"There's a concern that Denver would become a hub for these cultivation facilities," he notes. "But I think it needs to be fleshed out to determine if it's a solution in search of a problem.

"In the business community, a lot of landlords have embraced these medical marijuana businesses by allowing them to lease space for cultivation," Sederberg continues. "I thought people were pretty happy with that on the business side. So these issues definitely caught people off-guard. They've expended a lot of money, building their businesses from the perspective of gaining customers and improving their properties, and they never planned for the rules to be changed this quickly."

Indeed, the regs were turned upside-down less than a year ago -- in June, Sederberg says. And even if grows and other businesses are granted extra time to come into compliance with new directives, a slew of closures would likely take place anyway. That could deal a serious blow to Denver's economy at a very inopportune time, Sederberg feels.

In his view, the council has been open-minded throughout the latest process: "They're still listening to us," he says -- and he hopes they'll ultimately insure equity for medical marijuana operations in comparison with other industries.

"During this transitional period, almost all businesses would be allowed to use either the old code or the new code," Sederberg points out. "We just hope that same rule would apply to medical marijuana businesses."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana restrictions: Councilwoman doesn't see residential grow limits as a hardship."

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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