Since last year, we've been reporting about various Denver City Council proposals to update zoning rules for medical marijuana grows, with attorney Christian Sederberg warning weeks ago about huge repercussions if there's no MMJ grandfathering. Now, lawyer Warren Edson says more than 90 percent of Denver grows could close in months if a council plan to be debated today passes.
Edson attended last Monday's special issues committee meeting at which medical marijuana grows were a major topic. At that session, two amendments offered by councilwoman Judy Montero (who did not respond to an interview request last week) and a third backed by councilman Chris Nevitt got the most attention.
According to Edson, Montero would only grandfather in grows that complied with paperwork deadlines established by HB 1284, the main MMJ regulatory measure, and began operations prior to January 1, 2011. Problem is, "she was very specific that it had to be the original person who filed the paperwork, so anybody who's transferred ownership would be out" -- and transfers tend to be the rule, not the exception. "Back when we had the green rush, a lot of landlords pulled plant husbandry permits themselves and marked their buildings as ready to go," he explains.
Numbers vary in regard to the number of grows impacted, but the data Edson's seen suggests that of 150 grows in Denver, only thirteen would comply. The others would have to close by July 1.
The result, notes Edson, would be "137 empty buildings -- and because grows have to be in a chain with medical marijuana centers that have retail outlets, that's 137 places that would no longer be able to manufacture for their retail outlets."
Montero's second proposal, which deals mostly with application forms, an area map and insurance requirements, would have less sweeping ramifications, Edson believes. As for Nevitt's, he says, "we could almost deal with it if the overall theme wasn't so offensive. It affects the places that a plant-husbandry-use permit is no longer allowed in whatever new zoning district it's located. They didn't give a number of grows that would be affected -- twenty to thirty is my guess. But Nevitt creates this weird situation where the businesses that aren't in compliance with plant husbandry and zoning can come back within two years and the council would consider if the business was in compliance with the current tone and tenor of the neighborhood.
"On initial glance, that's kind of nice, because it gives you a chance to argue your case, and it allows you to stay for two years. But if you take a step back, it's really saying, 'We've got these empty buildings now, but if we make this neighborhood pretty in two years, we're going to boot your butts out.' And to me, that's taking advantage of the industry at a time when it's already reeling from all these rules and regulations."
Is this another example of a solution in search of a problem? Edson points out that "at one point, someone -- I think it was Doug Linkhart -- asked, 'How many of you people actually get complaints about these grows?' And only Montero raised her hand."
Of course, Montero and Nevitt aren't the only ones with amendment ideas. Over the weekend, Edson got a chance to peruse a whopping nine amendments offered by mayoral candidate Carol Boigon, and he considers them "worse" than Montero's measures -- "and I didn't think that was possible."
He adds, "It is interesting to see the city council come to the rescue of food carts with a claim of saving jobs [despite] the risk of loosening food-health safety standards and putting jobs at brick-and-mortar restaurants at risk, yet wanting to stick it the the MMJ industry despite the apparent lack of complaints from the general community or potential harm to the general community and many more jobs at risk."
Today's hearing is slated for 2 p.m. in Room 391 of the City & County Building.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana hearing: Advocate says Dept. of Revenue hostile to privacy concerns (PICS)."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.