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Colorado Springs council targets shops that make 'change' in marijuana

February 27, 2017 Updated: February 28, 2017 at 3:14 pm

In Colorado Springs, where recreational marijuana sales are illegal, a consumer can wander into a head shop, pay an exorbitant sum for a pipe or a lighter and get the "change" in marijuana.

Those unlawful transfers of pot must stop, Deputy Chief of Staff Bret Waters told the City Council on Monday.

"Illegal gifting and transfer is opposed by legitimate medical marijuana businesses," said Councilman Larry Bagley, who has led a marijuana working group that has studied city pot laws for the past year.

The council soon will be asked to pass an ordinance that bars such transfers. It also will be asked to consider limits on medical marijuana businesses, which have been under a moratorium that ends May 25.

The proposed caps would not affect the 132 dispensaries, 173 grow houses and 51 marijuana-infused products plants (MIPs) now licensed and operating legally at 212 locations in the city, said Lee McRae, marijuana enforcement officer with the City Clerk's Office.

The council also should consider whether to allow marijuana testing facilities, McRae suggested.

Only 14 now operate in the state, mostly along the Front Range but with two in Durango and one in Carbondale.

Almost all of those laboratories test medical and recreational marijuana, said Tom Scudder, a member of Bagley's working group and manager of A Wellness Centers dispensary.

"You might consider allowing a lab to test both," Scudder said. "For economy of scale, a lab would be more likely to come into Colorado Springs if it could test both. It doesn't mean we'd have recreational here, only that they could test it here."

The proposed caps on medical marijuana, meanwhile, pose some complications for the council to consider.

The state requires dispensaries to grow 70 percent of their own product, so many operators also own grow houses. The two have separate licenses.

Under the proposed ordinance, an owner still could sell a business. But if a license expires or is surrendered, it could not be replaced, McRae said.

People could seek licenses for new grow houses and MIP plants if they will be fully co-owned and on site with an existing medical marijuana operation in appropriate zoning.

A medical pot outlet could move only if the entire operation moves into appropriate zoning or to an existing licensed location with, again, 100 percent common ownership.

As with licenses, surrender or vacation of an existing medical marijuana location does not create an opportunity for replacement, McRae said.

Council President Merv Bennett suggested the working group recommend which laws the council should adopt.

Councilman Don Knight said, "Today is the one-year anniversary of when we brought forward ordinances to outlaw recreational consumption clubs. The one around the corner from my house is still up and operating. It's great to do these ordinances, but enforcement is not what I had anticipated, to say the least. What is stopping us?"

Chief of Staff Jeff Greene said an executive session will be needed to discuss that problem.

Nine cannabis consumption clubs sued the city last April but were ordered by the City Clerk's Office in September to stop operations because they did not obtain city licensing required under the year-old ordinance, which also gave the clubs eight years to phase out operations.

Meanwhile, a state Senate committee on Wednesday is to consider a bill allowing marijuana consumption clubs, another to allow private pot clubs and a third to change state marijuana laws and allow for delivery.

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