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Suthers urges religious intervention on marijuana proposal

September 15, 2010

A politically connected Planning Commission member is urging religious leaders to weigh in on a new proposal that would prohibit medical marijuana businesses within 1,000 feet of churches, synagogues and mosques.

The nine-member commission will consider the proposal tomorrow as part of a larger discussion about zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses.

Critics say the proposal could force dozens of dispensaries and grow operations, if not all of them, out of business in Colorado Springs.

(See a map of medical marijuana businesses here.)

Commissioner Janet Suthers said she sent religious leaders and other “key stakeholders” an e-mail Tuesday encouraging them to attend tomorrow’s meeting and express their views because they had been left out of initial discussions about the zoning regulations.

When asked whether she supports the 1,000-foot buffer zone, she said, “Not necessarily.”

In the e-mail to pastors and rabbis, Suthers said the ordinance the commission is considering states that medical marijuana businesses can’t be located within 400 feet of schools, residential child care facilities and drug and alcohol treatment centers.

“There is no mention of parks, colleges, day care centers, preschools, churches, synagogues or mosques,” Suthers said in the e-mail.

“An alternative proposal would include churches, synagogues and mosques and increases the spacing requirement to 1,000 feet,” she wrote.

(To read the full text of the e-mail, visit the City Desk blog by clicking here. Suthers objected to its release, but the e-mail is a public document.)

Suthers, former president of the Cheyenne Mountain School District Board of Education, is married to state Attorney General John Suthers, who supports the concept of local bans. In the e-mail, she notes that she’s on the board of the Springs-based Center for Christian Jewish Dialogue.

Her e-mail – and her connection to the state AG – generated sharp criticism.

“To go out and try to encourage dissent, and solicit people to come in and support a policy that the commissioner is pushing, seems inappropriate to me,” said Councilman Sean Paige, who advocates regulating the industry and spearheaded a task force that developed the first set of proposed zoning regulations.

“It’s not too surprising, really, given that she’s married to an attorney general who has done everything in his power to undermine patient rights and orchestrate a roundabout reversal of Amendment 20 by pushing for dispensary bans,” Paige added, referring to the voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana.

“Some people never got over the fact that voters approved the use of medical marijuana,” he said. “But instead of just coming out and trying to overturn it at the state level, they’ve embarked on a strategy of trying to regulate it out of existence at the local level.”

Tanya Garduno, director of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, said the proposed 1,000-foot buffer zone – without a grandfather clause – would effectively squash the medical marijuana industry in Colorado Springs, which is home to about 176 dispensaries.

“When you add the 1,000-foot rule, it would already affect 60 (dispensaries), and then when you add churches, synagogues and mosques, I don’t even know how many more that includes because, you know, Colorado Springs is heavy into its religion,” she said.

Paige said Janet Suthers attended some of the task force meetings “and sat quietly in the back of the room and never said anything.”

Paige also said the meetings were open to the public, and the medical marijuana issue has been “widely discussed” and “widely reported” for nearly a year.

“The idea that there hasn’t been ample opportunity for every stakeholder to contribute is rather silly,” he said.

The commission is an advisory board to the council, which is expected to take up the proposed regulations in the coming months.

Tomorrow's meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, 2880 International Circle.

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