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Council urged not to sell "our soul to the devil"

November 18, 2010

Restrictive zoning rules intended to keep medical marijuana businesses farther from all types of schools were booted Thursday by the Planning Commission to the Colorado Springs City Council, where they are expected to run into stiff opposition.

The commission recommended a 1,000-foot buffer zone between dispensaries and schools, including preschools, colleges and universities.

An early version of the proposed land-use regulations had a shorter setback and included only kindergarten through 12th grade schools.

The commission also recommended the same 1,000-foot setback between dispensaries and all residential child care facilities and drug and/or alcohol treatment facilities, which could include places where Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held.

An industry advocate says more than 100 dispensaries could be affected.

“Yeah, we’ve made it pretty restrictive, knowing full well that behind us sits the City Council, which can take and reverse anything we’ve done if they choose,” Commissioner Donald Magill said before the 6-1 vote.

“I am hopeful that what we’ve done here is sent a message to the community that we care and that we want control and concern over these facilities and how they’re run and that the City Council will pick up on that and accept our recommendations,” he said.

The council is scheduled to discuss the commission’s recommended zoning regulations during its informal meeting Dec. 13 and then vote on them on first reading Dec. 14.

At least two councilmen — Sean Paige and Bernie Herpin — have described the 1,000-foot setback between dispensaries and various types of schools as too restrictive.
“First, I don’t give a hoot what the Planning Commission recommends. It won’t impact my decision on these matters in the least,” Paige said in his blog this week.

“And I’m guessing that a majority of my colleagues don’t give a hoot either, even if they’re too diplomatic to say so.”

Commissioner Carla Harstell said the council seems motivated “by one thing and one thing only” when it involves medical marijuana: revenue.

“I think we’re selling our soul to the devil if we make all our decisions based on how much money we’re going to get from a business,” she said.

Tanya Garduno, director of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, called the proposed land-use regulations “ridiculous,” saying more than 100 dispensaries could be forced to close down.

“There might by a 4-by-4 patch of ground in Colorado Springs that we can set up a center on,” she said.

It could have been worse.

Commissioner Diann Butlak suggested adding a spacing requirement between dispensaries and religious institutions, parks and residential neighborhoods.

But according to city planners, those uses are not included in state statutes involving medical marijuana, and the business licensing review will not recognize the restriction.

“I just don’t understand why we still can’t zone,” Butlak said.

“The culture of Colorado Springs is different from the state culture,” she said. “If the city of Colorado Springs wants to reflect its culture and wants to protect neighborhoods, wants to protect houses of worship, why are we precluded from doing that?”

Butlak’s colleagues told her the issue had been discussed during a recent informal meeting, which Butlak missed.

Commissioner Dan Cleveland told Butlak more than 200 parks are in the city and “a lot more” churches.

By including parks and churches, “you’re almost legislating out medical marijuana by just including every possible or type of facility that you can think of,” he said.

During the Nov. 2 election, voters rejected a ban of medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated El Paso County.

In the county, “it was basically a 50/50 vote,” commission Chairman Kevin Butcher said.
“Half the community is against it. Half the community is for it,” he said. “We’re stuck in the middle, and we have to make it work for both.”

The margin wasn’t so close, however, within the city of Colorado Springs.

An analysis by The Gazette showed that within city limits, 61 percent of the precincts rejected the ban. See an upcoming story on Sunday with a precinct-by-precinct breakdown.

Call the writer at 476-1623

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