Cities, voters respond to medical marijuana sales

Berthoud, population 5,200, could be described as the quintessential small town with manicured parks, very little crime, residents who all seem to know one another and a quiet, neighborly attitude. Across Larimer County, Fort Collins bustles with Colorado State University, 143,986 residents, bike trails, breweries and businesses. The town and city also sit on opposite sides of the medical marijuana dispensary spectrum. Fort Collins voters banned dispensaries within the city limits during the last election, giving the businesses until Feb. 14 to close. Five of the 20 have already shut their doors, while a handful of others have sued the city in hopes of stopping the closure. Berthoud is in the process of opening its doors to applications for new dispensaries, although with the size of the town and the proposed restrictions, it is likely that only one additional dispensary will be able to join the existing Herb’s Medicinal Inc. And the town — the only place in Larimer County allowing dispensaries — also is looking at requiring private caregivers to register at city hall so town officials know every home in which up to 30 plants are being grown.

“I think Berthoud is very open-minded and fair,” said Michele Ballinger, owner of Herb’s Medicinals Inc., which has been open since 2009. When Ballinger’s shop opened, it was one of six in town. All the others have since closed because of violations or their decision not to pay the steep application fee required for dispensaries in Colorado. Herb’s Medicinals jumped through the hoops, paid its sales taxes, abided by all the laws and, therefore, remained open even as the town closed its doors to new applications while it awaited state regulations. Now that the state rules are in order, the town is looking to create its own process for allowing new applications — a measure expected to go to a vote in coming months. The catch is that Berthoud is looking to allow dispensaries in only one industrial zoned area on Second Street and, per state law, require a 1,000-foot distance from schools. With the layout of the city, five schools peppered within the boundaries and those distance requirements, it is likely only one more storefront could open. “It’s so small that there’s never going to be two (more),” said Ballinger.

“It would be virtually impossible because of the way the schools are spread out.” What seemed more concerning to town board members than dispensaries at a recent study session, however, was finding a way to track private caregivers who can grow up to 30 plants in their own homes for patients. The Colorado constitution protects caregivers’ right to provide medicinal marijuana by growing a capped number of plants at home, so local governments cannot regulate that, explained attorney Greg Bell, who is crafting the Berthoud’s proposed medical marijuana rules. They can, however, require caregivers to register and submit to inspections to make sure the grow is safe and meeting health standards, Bell said. Board members asked him to incorporate that requirement — along with one that caregivers must own their own homes or have written consent from their landlords — into the medical marijuana regulations up for adoption in coming months. The town, like other governments, is feeling its way through new rules, which could all change in November if voters approve ballot measures to legalize marijana and depending on what marijuana laws the federal government chooses to enforce. “We’re in the wild west of this,” Bell told the council. “We’ll know more as it goes along.” In nine days, all Fort Collins medical marijuana dispensaries must shut down per an ordinance approved by voters in November.

The 20 businesses have until midnight Feb. 14 to have liquidated their supplies and been inspected by Fort Collins police. So far, five have met those requirements. A handful of others hired an attorney and sued to keep their businesses open. They have asked a judge to issue a temporary order so they do not have to close on Valentine’s Day and to find the voter-approved ordinance unconstitutional so they can stay in business. That case is pending, but so far the only date scheduled is March 27 — more than a month after the closing deadline. Fort Collins is not the first city to ban dispensaries after the state put that power in the hands of local governments. When voters approved the ban, by a 2,162-vote margin, 75 other governments had already banned dispensaries by a vote of residents or elected officials. These include Loveland, Greeley, Windsor, Estes Park and Larimer County. Attorney Brett Barney, who filed the lawsuit, did not return a phone call. And Deputy City Attorney Kraig Ecton said he is confident the judge will uphold the ban.  “We think the ordinance the voters adopted is constitutional, and we will argue that in court,” Ecton said. “We anticipate moving forward enforcing that citizen-passed ordinance.”

via  : Reporter Herald

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