Council favors marijuana permits until plan is finalized

TOM ROEDER Updated: May 25, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: May 25, 2010

The Colorado Springs City Council followed the state’s lead toward regulating medical marijuana after a meeting that drew scores of people Tuesday.

The council voted 6-3 in favor of giving dispensaries temporary operating permits until a licensing scheme is worked out. The ordinance faces a final vote in June.

The vote ran counter to requests from some neighborhood groups and the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, which want voters to decide on a dispensary ban.

The regulations would bring the city into line with rules passed by the General Assembly this month that are on Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk.

William Abeyta, of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, said advocates have asked for stricter rules than those the council imposed.

“What we presented to the City Council is more restrictive than the ordinance we got back,” Abeyta said.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, when voters approved Amendment 20. But efforts to regulate sales of the drug didn’t take center stage until last year, when the federal government said it wouldn’t enforce its marijuana laws in states where the substance is legal. City officials said that since 2009, the number of medical marijuana businesses has grown from a handful to more than 100 firms.

Councilman Tom Gallagher said city regulations send a strong message.

“You don’t comply, you’re a drug dealer with a storefront, and I hope we throw you under the bus,” he said.

The ordinance gives existing medical marijuana dispensaries temporary operating permits. The dispensaries must also have a city business license and pay sales taxes.

The state will begin its own marijuana business licensing program after Ritter signs HB1284.

“This is a significant step,” said Councilman Sean Paige, who led efforts to establish the regulations.

But allowing marijuana businesses to operate legally in the city, even temporarily, isn’t without critics.

The chamber’s Ernest House said businesses want voters to determine if the city needs a ban.

The state law on Ritter’s desk would allow local dispensary bans with a public vote.

“This issue should be brought before voters,” House said.

But it was clear that the council wanted temporary regulations on the books.

“Are you the chamber of commerce or the chamber of noncommerce?” Councilman Tom Gallagher said in response to House’s comment.

Joseph DeFabio, owner of the Briargate Wellness Center, said dispensary owners welcome strict regulations rather than a ban.

“A ban would be devastating to me and it would be devastating to me family,” DeFabio told the council.

Some council members leaned toward a vote on banning marijuana businesses.

“Quite frankly I think this is a moral question,” said councilman Randy Purvis.”I am going to vote against the ordinance because I support the concept of it being voting on by the entire city.”

“Philosophically I cannot support this,” said Councilman Scott Hente. “It starts us down a road I am not comfortable with.”

But the majority said the time for legal marijuana sales has come.

“I think the public has spoken on this issue numerous times,” said Paige.

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