Passing a medical-marijuana moratorium in Fort Collins not such an emergency after all

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The word "emergency" has been bandied about frequently in relation to medical marijuana, as in the recent Board of Health meeting to change the definition of caregiver -- a decision that was subsequently tossed in Denver District Court due in part to the lack of lead time given to various stakeholders.

Last night in Fort Collins, that term cropped up again -- but the city council rejected it. Tentative approval was given to a three-month moratorium on new medical-marijuana dispensaries -- but a final decision won't be made until the next council meeting, two weeks from now, at which members of the public will have another chance to have their say.

Terri Lynn, a caregiver who operates as a private delivery service under the name Natural Alternatives For Health, raised concerns about the council's possible action in this space yesterday -- but her worst trepidations weren't realized. Overall, she felt positive about the developments, in part because the council and the hundred or so people who attended the meeting were more in tune philosophically than she'd anticipated.

"Everybody in the audience was very supportive of regulations -- even the ones who spoke against the moratorium," Lynn said. "I didn't hear one person say, 'We don't need any regulations. This is working fine.'"

Here's her account of the proceedings:

"I've been at a lot of city council meetings, and most of the time, the council people seem to know where they stand on issues," she says. "But this time, a lot of them seemed to come in with no idea how they were going to go -- so the audience really played a pivotal role in helping shape their understanding of the issue.

"The first thing they did was talk about the word 'emergency' -- and there were a lot of really good comments saying, 'This isn't an emergency.' In the history of Fort Collins, there've apparently been two or three things that had emergency votes -- I think they could only remember two of them. And they decided, 'We should reserve this for really important things. Let's be judicious here. The people of Fort Collins want to make their voices heard on all issues.'"

In the end, "they passed a motion to drop the word 'emergency,' which was great. That means the ruling will no longer take effect immediately. There'll at least be a 24-day lag -- two weeks until the next council meeting, when there'll be a second reading, and then another ten days if that passes."

Not everyone was pleased by this ruling, with some officials fearing that during the next two weeks, the city will be inundated with dispensary applications from entrepreneurs who want to beat the moratorium. In the end, however, the reps opted for more participation from residents. As Lynn points out, "it no longer bypasses comments by citizens."

After that, Lynn says, "the police department [in the person of Lt. Jerry Schiager, commander of the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force] made a presentation where they talked about their concerns -- and they seemed to have some very valid points. They said they have no idea who's legal -- that the whole idea of being able to have whatever amount your doctor decides you need to manage your condition was confusing. They also talked about mold in some grow operations, which they saw as a public threat -- I think that's overstated -- and electrical-code violation-type things."

A representative from the zoning department made similar points: "They talked about how they consider dispensaries to be retail operations, and how there are no restrictions on retail as long as they're in a section that's zoned for retail. It was a very informative presentation."

Some officials wanted a ten-month moratorium on new dispensaries, but that was ultimately shot down, with council member David Roy being the most vocal opponent of knee-jerk responses.

Roy "said the idea that we needed an emergency moratorium was a fear-based reaction, and he didn't want to see Fort Collins play into that," Lynn says.

A similar note was struck by council member Kelly Ohlson. According to Lynn, "He said, 'We've got the best staff, the best people. We know we can come up with something that can work. Why wait for the state to inform us how to handle this? Let's inform the state. Let's aim to be a leader in the state, and hence the nation, in crafting regulations that actually work.'"

Lynn left the meeting optimistic something like that could actually happen.

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