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Two dispensaries can remain open, receive zoning variances

November 23, 2010

Two medical marijuana dispensaries that opened outside Colorado Springs city limits before El Paso County commissioners established land use regulations nearly a year ago, and have been in violation of zoning laws, can continue to operate in their current locations – for now.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved zoning variances for Front Range Farmacy, doing business as Top Buds, and Cannabis Therapy Center.

But commissioners put conditions on the duration of the variances, which could possibly force one or both to relocate in the future.

After testimony from dispensary owners, employees, medical marijuana patients and a lawyer, Front Range Farmacy was granted a five-year variance. Cannabis Therapy Center received a one-year variance.

Both businesses are located in “limited industrial” zones. Front Range Farmacy leases a unit in a strip center east of Powers off Platte Avenue, near a gentleman’s club, a brew pub and a moving company. Cannabis Therapy Center is directly off Powers Boulevard, close to a big box retailer, a dog groomer and a karate institute.

Both are more than 1,000 feet from churches, schools and day care centers, owners said, exceeding the county’s current requirement of a 500- foot buffer. Commissioners approved temporary land use regulations for such businesses on Dec. 17, 2009, and extended them for another six months in June. The regulations allow medical marijuana related businesses only in commercial and heavy industrial zoning, but not limited industrial, where the two dispensaries are located.

To obtain a variance, applicants must prove they would experience “undue hardship” and “peculiar and exceptional practical difficulties” without the variance.

Dispensary owners said they would likely have to close their businesses without a variance.

(Click here to see a breakdown of the Nov. 2 vote on a medical marijuana ban in unincorporated El Paso County).

The Colorado Department of Revenue is creating regulations from the laws state legislators passed earlier this year and has placed a moratorium on new businesses starting before July 1, and on existing businesses moving before then. County commissioners said the uncertainties still surrounding the industry appear to have created hardship for the businesses.

Front Range Farmacy opened nine days before the county’s temporary regulations were enacted. Co-owner Dustin Rose said he and his partner were aware of possible regulations coming, so they sought a location that they thought would be discreet and signed a three-year lease.

“We’ve tried to jump through every hoop we could to be compliant,” Rose said.

Commissioners viewed the location of Cannabis Therapy Center as more obtrusive and agreed to let it stay at the site for one year.

“I think ultimately the state regulations will permit relocation of existing business, and I believe this business should relocate to a properly zoned area,” Commissioner Wayne Williams said.

Owner Donald Liles called the decision “a slap in the face.”

“We were established long before the other center that was granted a five-year variance and have just as much hardship,” he said. “We don’t think we should have to move, and we’ll stand up and fight for our constitutional rights.”

The commission will enact permanent land use regulations next month, with the expiration of the temporary conditions and the county’s ballot initiative to ban such businesses failing in the Nov. 2 election. County records show about 15 medical marijuana-type businesses operate in unincorporated El Paso County.

Click here to read about Colorado Springs' dispensary regulations.

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