City ready to ban medical marijuana businesses

The City of Centennial is poised to ban all medical-marijuana businesses and regulate many of the designated caregivers who assist such patients in the city.

The city council has reached consensus that marijuana dispensaries, marijuana-product manufacturers and cultivation operations should not be permitted in the city of 103,000 people.

That means many of Centennial’s state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients will continue purchasing their physician-approved marijuana in Littleton, Englewood and other cities.

“Denver has a multitude of opportunities for people,” Mayor Cathy Noon said to her colleagues.

State-sanctioned patient-designated caregivers — especially those growing marijuana in residential neighborhoods — would likely be subject to limits on the number of plants they can grow.

The move comes as Centennial’s lawsuit with a former dispensary continues. CannaMart, the city’s only known medical-marijuana business, was forced to close in 2009. Centennial’s temporary moratorium on such businesses will expire July 1.

Meanwhile, legislation regulating Colorado’s medical-marijuana industry is being challenged. The Colorado Supreme Court has not yet announced if it will take the case before it has been heard by lower courts.

If Centennial stays on the course set at its Jan. 10 council meeting, the city will be following a lead set by neighbors Lone Tree and Greenwood Village, which have permanently banned marijuana operations.

“We would be an island if we don’t do so,” District 2 Councilmember Keith Gardner said, arguing Centennial might otherwise become a haven for the sometimes controversial medical marijuana industry.

Although in 2000 Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the medicinal use of marijuana, any use remains illegal under federal law. The U.S. Justice Department has called prosecuting patients and caregivers in states permitting it a low priority.

A state law passed last year allows municipalities to ban medical marijuana businesses by either council decree or a vote of the people. At the recent Centennial meeting, there was no discussion of permitting any such enterprises in the city and the staff did not present it as an option.

District 1 Councilmember Rick Dindinger said the issue should ideally be decided by a vote of the people. But since the state Supreme Court could potentially throw out the right of cities to ban the businesses outright, he suggested postponing action.

City staff argued otherwise. City Attorney Robert Widner and Wayne Reed, Centennial’s community-development director, encouraged the council to take action now and potentially amend policies later if need be.

“We would like to at least proceed down the path of putting in place a permanent ban,” Reed said. “If it appears that the state Supreme Court is going to take a different course, we can come back to this council in a prudent manner.”

Some councilmembers objected to placing the issue on November’s ballot anyway, fearing such an initiative would be a distraction in this year’s city council elections and attract one-issue medical-marijuana candidates.

“If we put this on an election year … I think our city will be influenced by monies I don’t want influencing our total population,” District 4 Councilmember Ron Weidmann argued.

While the council is likely to ban all marijuana businesses, city officials are ready to regulate noncommercial caregivers. Reed stressed the need to limit the number of plants that can be grown in a residential neighborhood.

“It’s also about the protection of our neighborhoods and property values,” he said. “A marijuana grow operation reaches a point at which the nature of the operation is not residential anymore. It’s truly commercial.”

Widner said there have been many incidents in which residential homes have been purchased for the sole purpose of growing marijuana.

“[They were] barring up the windows to prevent entry, rewiring the entire interior system, growing such a volume of plant material that it basically destroyed the structure,” the city attorney said.

Reed recommended the city regulate residential caregivers who grow more than 18 plants at a time. Those growing in excess of 30 should locate in commercial areas, he said.

District 2 Councilmember Sue Bosier was the only official to differ with regulating caregivers. She cited her experiences with a neighbor who for years had cultivated marijuana illegally and served as many as 100 recreational customers daily.

“There was no change in that house,” Bosier said. “There was no rewiring. There was no replumbing. I saw the house after they moved so I know they didn’t do anything.”

Weidmann was the only official who said he was conflicted by the needs of Centennial’s medical marijuana patients.

“We don’t want to deny it to the people who need it, but we want to protect the residential communities,” he said.

The city staff will draft an ordinance per council consensus in coming months. The council is expected to take a formal vote on the measure in June before the moratorium expires.

via : Colorado Community Newspapers

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