Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Legalizing marijuana created a rippling effect

JOHN SCHROYER Updated: November 12, 2012 at 12:00 am

The famous — or infamous, depending on your point of view — ballot measure legalizing marijuana in Tuesday’s election is already sending ripples through Colorado’s medical marijuana community.

Some medical marijuana dispensaries are worried, some aren’t. Some dispensaries supported the ballot measure, some didn’t.

But one thing is for sure — they’ve all gotten a lot more attention since the ballot measure has made national news.

“One center owner I know said somebody from Chicago called up and asked if they could send them a pound in the mail,” said Jeff Sveinsson, the owner of Cannabicare, a medical marijuana dispensary near Peterson Air Force Base.

Tanya Garduno, president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, said her phone “has been ringing off the hook” with calls from centers all over Colorado.

Center owners, she said, are being hassled by people from not just Colorado Springs but by people from Durango, Pueblo, Denver and in other towns who want to buy pot.

“It’s pretty hilarious when I get those problems,” Garduno said. “Every center has been swamped with calls, ‘Can I buy now?’ ‘No, you can’t.’ ”

Amendment 64, which Colorado voters approved Tuesday by a 55 percent margin, will allow individuals older than 21 to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana and grow as many as six marijuana plants. It will also allow retail marijuana stores to open in January 2014, after the Legislature enacts industry regulations.

Many people around the country haven’t read the fine print, though. Personal possession will only become legal after the governor proclaims the amendment part of the state Constitution, which may not happen until the governor’s deadline, Jan. 5.

That isn’t just an annoyance, Sveinsson said. It points to a serious flaw in the amendment — the measure doesn’t specify whether only Colorado residents can buy recreational marijuana.

“We’ve had people calling our store all week long who are from out of state, who are going on road trips and want to buy marijuana from us,” Sveinsson said.

“We’re going to be (angering) Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, you name it.”

Sveinsson is only one of dozens of medical marijuana stakeholders around Colorado Springs, though, and plenty of others have no problem with the amendment.

Gina Akeo, the manager of the medical marijuana center Natural Leaf, said she voted for it because of the criminal repercussions.

“If you’re going to legalize alcohol, which kills thousands of people a year, and not legalize something that’s never harmed anyone, that’s counter-productive,” Akeo said. “The feds shouldn’t be wasting time on people that are committing minor crimes like having less than an ounce of pot.”

Akeo said that plenty of her patients also voted for Amendment 64 for the same reason.

But they, and Akeo, still have reservations.

“It’s also a medical thing, and to make it recreational kind of defeats the purpose. It’s kind of a Catch-22,” Akeo said. “A lot of patients don’t want people with minor amounts incarcerated, but they also don’t want their medical to be interfered with.”

For those reasons and more, Garduno said, the Medical Cannabis Council planned a meeting to discuss the issue. The council has more than 60 members, she said, including dispensary owners, employees, patients and doctors.

“Most of the folks are kind of split down the center. Half of them say they’re in favor of going legal, and half want to stay patient-based,” Garduno said.

And some are furious, like Sveinsson.

“We’re going to become the Amsterdam of the United States,” he said. “I can guarantee that (buyers) will be offloading it onto the streets and sending it out of state.”

Some dispensaries will probably be interested in selling both recreational marijuana and medical, Garduno said, because they’ve already set up shop and could make more profits if they add to their clientele.

That depends largely on what kind of rules the Legislature puts out, Akeo said. Her shop hasn’t even considered yet whether or not it may sell recreational marijuana, because they wouldn’t have to apply for a license until 2014.

“We knew we’d better hurry up and wait, just like we did with medical. It’s like, what’s going to happen now?” Garduno said.

Medical marijuana, Garduno and Akeo pointed out, was approved by Colorado voters in 2000, but regulations are still being handed down by the state. Centers have had to relocate, update security systems, and more. Regulations for recreational stores could take longer and be even more stringent.

Other stakeholders in the industry are also talking about what may happen if the federal government decides to prosecute stores that begin selling recreational marijuana. Marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but remains banned under federal law.

The federal government has shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in other states, like California, and some warn that the same thing could happen here if Amendment 64 leads to federal intervention.

WHEN LEGAL?

Personal possession of marijuana will only become legal after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaims the amendment part of the state Constitution, which might not happen until the governor's deadline, Jan. 5, 2013.

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