Colorado Springs City Council weighs extension of moratorium on medical marijuana businesses

March 21, 2016 Updated: March 22, 2016 at 6:41 am
photo - Bud tender Kelley Schaffer trims buds  Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, at Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana indoor farm in Colorado Springs.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Bud tender Kelley Schaffer trims buds Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, at Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana indoor farm in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Instead of expiring in May, the moratorium on medical marijuana businesses in Colorado Springs could last another year, City Council members suggested in a surprise, last-minute development Monday.

The six-month ban was imposed last Nov. 24 with the promise that it would not be extended. 

A task force that has studied the issue since then made some recommendations Monday but told the council its work isn't done, and more medical marijuana issues should be explored.

That prompted Bret Waters to suggest the city "extend the moratorium for a longer time to look at the economic impact as we move into other redevelopment areas."

Waters, a nonvoting task force member, also is deputy chief of staff to Mayor John Suthers, an outspoken marijuana opponent.

"How much time? Three more months?" asked Councilman Bill Murray.

"I would say 12 months," Waters replied.

Council President Merv Bennett reminded his colleagues that the ordinance language specified the moratorium would not be extended.

"We agreed there'd be no extension of the moratorium, but there might be a compromise because it was brought up by a member of the industry to limit the licenses," said Councilman Don Knight, who sought the original ban. "That would almost create a moratorium in itself."

Said Councilman Larry Bagley, task force chairman: "The wording definitely was there that it would not be extended. It would have to be a new moratorium if we did that."

The task force has met seven times since November. While it made some recommendations on new rules for the medical marijuana industry, the panel has yet to draft an ordinance for the council to consider.

"You all have until May," Bennett reminded the group. "I'd like to see the task force deal with some of these issues. If you think it should continue, bring us a recommendation. If you think it should be a moratorium, bring us a recommendation."

"I'm not sure I want to continue till the 25th of May," Bagley joked. "Some of these issues will take more time, so we need to have some discussion about a moratorium. We have at least another couple of meetings and recommendations on these" other issues to be explored.

"That would totally screw me," said John Cureton, owner of the Stained Glass Inc. dispensary.

He's waited months to open the grow house he needs to provide medical marijuana to his dispensary.

"Our lease (on the grow house) got signed an hour before the moratorium hit," Cureton said. "I have to get this building going because I already paid so much for licenses. You have to produce 70 percent of your own product. These city guys are just sitting around playing these power games because they can."

Cureton has spent more than $100,000 on grow equipment, plus considerable sums on "compliance and meeting the letter of the law."

At the very least, he said, any moratorium should allow entrepreneurs like him to open and expand grow operations.

Bagley's task force has yet to tackle such issues as whether to limit how many plants can be grown outside of residential areas, how to differentiate between hazardous and nonhazardous manufacturing of marijuana-infused products, how to regulate odors, whether anything should be done about advertising, and whether to require additional licensing and what the fees should be.

Colorado Springs has 135 dispensaries, more than one-fourth of the 517 statewide, though the city has only about 10 percent of the state's population.

That fact prompted task force member Dale Hecht, owner of Green Pharm LLC, to suggest that the city might limit licenses for businesses like his. Denver and Pueblo both have bans on adding dispensaries, so more are moving to Colorado Springs.

But, he said, "I'd like to be able to expand here, so I wouldn't like a moratorium to stop the ability for me to do that."

So far, the task force has agreed to these recommendations:

- Limit each household, no matter how many occupants, to 12 marijuana plants.

- Allow dispensaries in the same commercial and industrial zones as always but limit grow houses to industrial zones, allowing conditional permits in commercial zones, and relegate hazardous marijuana-infused products producers to industrial, while non-hazardous manufacturers also could be conditionally permitted in commercial zones.

- Keep dispensaries at least 1,000 feet (rather than the current 400 feet) from schools, child-care centers and addiction rehabilitation centers.

- Require a development plan review of new buildings, modifications or expansions.

At issue now is whether the panel can recommend ordinances before the moratorium expires May 25.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, when voters passed Amendment 20. Patients who need such medication must obtain a special card from a doctor and then can obtain the appropriate dose from a dispensary, which is served by a grow house and, usually, a marijuana-infused products manufacturer.

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