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Colorado Springs medical marijuana dispensary owner sues county over denial of license renewal

August 4, 2017 Updated: August 7, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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The owner of recently shuttered medical marijuana center, New Horizons, is suing El Paso County commissioners after they put one of four dispensaries within their jurisdiction out of business. (Photo via Google Maps)

The owner of a recently shuttered medical marijuana center is suing El Paso County commissioners after they put one of four dispensaries in unincorporated areas out of business.

Shane Zacher's attorneys filed a complaint last month asking a judge to review the board's 3-to-2 vote May 30 to deny a license renewal for his dispensary, New Horizons, previously at 1460 Woolsey Heights. Zacher's lawyers argue that the board abused its power, basing its judgment on several "minor" violations that were promptly corrected.

"It was like getting shut down for a parking ticket," said Zacher, who opened New Horizons in 2010. "I don't think that's right."

Last year, inspectors from Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division found that New Horizon's plant inventory was inaccurate, the center exceeded its allowed plant count by five and many of its plants were improperly labeled, according to the complaint. Another inspection in May found more violations, including an outdated access log and vegetation room record and a glitch in the security system preventing cameras from monitoring the sales area.

For commissioners Mark Waller, Longinos Gonzalez Jr. and Stan VanderWerf, the violations were reason enough to deny the renewal.

"The board did not abuse its discretion. They had clear violations," Waller, a vocal opponent of Colorado's marijuana industry while in the state Legislature from 2009 to 2014, said in a Friday interview. "Anything related to the tracking of the plants and the tracking of the sales is crucially important to do correctly. It enables the regulators to know that they are engaged in a fully legal business."

The county's medical marijuana policy requires a hearing before the board if the dispensary applying for a renewal has one or more violations of county or state policies during the current licensing period. Commissioners have the authority to "refuse to renew any license for good cause," according to the policy.

Zacher noted that several of the commissioners have publicly opposed legal marijuana.

"It's obvious that they're trying to shut us all down," Zacher said."It's unethical." Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Darryl Glenn voted in favor of Zacher's license renewal.

Littleton said the dispensary's violations were minor compared to infractions discovered at other facilities in the state.

"This particular location had not had any issues in the past. They have jumped through every hoop, dotted every I, and crossed every T," Littleton said. "We want to be business friendly."

The split decision rejecting Zacher's license renewal marked the first time the board refused to renew an annual dispensary license and raised another medical marijuana center owner's fears that commissioners might deny its license renewal request later this month due to a clerical error the center made when filing a previous application. 

New Age Medical dispensary on Space Village Avenue is slated for a license renewal hearing before the board on Aug. 15. 

A "no" vote by commissioners could shut down New Age Medical's grow operations and dispensary on Space Village Avenue. Without the grow operations, its other center on Garden of the Gods Road would likely close, too, said co-owner Forrest Charlesworth.

New Age Medical's local medical marijuana operations employ more than a dozen people and generate roughly $1.5 million in sales annually, he said.

"Everybody is sweating bullets because they may be out of a job," Charlesworth said.

His business erred when it applied for a county license renewal during the last go-around and inadvertently omitted a fine it paid after products were improperly transferred from one of its grow houses to its sister company's dispensary in Denver.

"If they deny my licenses, I'll be at Shane's side, suing them," he added.

In addition to asking that a judge overturn the board's decision, Zacher's attorneys also request legal fees and damages in the complaint, which was filed in El Paso County District Court.

"The County Attorney's Office believes that the commissioners' decision was appropriate and within their purview," said county spokesman Dave Rose, who added that the office will likely file a motion to have the case dismissed.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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