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Expect new medical marijuana rules soon in Colorado Springs

March 14, 2016 Updated: March 15, 2016 at 8:38 am
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photo - Medical marijuana plants grow at Rocky Mountain Miracles Friday, April 4, 2014.  Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Medical marijuana plants grow at Rocky Mountain Miracles Friday, April 4, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Colorado Springs' booming medical marijuana industry should expect new rules soon, and at least one city task force member wants to extend the moratorium on those businesses.

The current six-month moratorium, banning establishment of new medical marijuana outlets, expires March 22, so the task force will make suggestions to the City Council at its work session at 1 p.m. Monday.

The city now has about 135 dispensaries, plus medical marijuana grows and manufacturers of pot-infused products, all legal because Colorado voters enacted Amendment 20 in 2000.

At least one task force recommendation would affect every marijuana grower, not only medical grows. Residents now can grow six plants apiece. The new rule calls for no more than 12 plants per household, six mature and six immature.

Proposals include new rules on zoning, hours of operation and transport, and odors:

- Dispensaries could be in most commercial zones but at least 1,000 feet from schools, mental health clinics and many other establishments, conforming with 1,000-foot limits set by the state and federal governments. That's looser than the 400-foot limit the city now mandates.

- Marijuana grows will be allowed in industrial M1 and M2 zones. They can apply for a conditional use permit through the Planning Commission to operate in commercial areas; industrial property with willing landlords is at a premium these days. Some commercial zones and business parks far from neighborhoods could be appropriate for grow operations.

The task force has yet to decide how to differentiate between MIP manufacturers, as some marijuana-infused products are created with hazardous, flammable materials and others are not. Those that use hazardous production systems likely will be confined to industrial zones only.

- Although specific standards haven't been adopted, the task force would like to outlaw cultivation of medical marijuana creating an odor that is "substantially" detectable. Denver uses the Nasal Ranger Field Olfactometer to measure odors, said Council Administrator Eileen Gonzalez.

- Dispensaries could operate from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and could transport the medicine from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The state now allows dispensaries to stay open till midnight, said City Clerk Sarah Johnson.

The proposal to extend the moratorium could not only reduce competition but also avert an excessive influx of medical marijuana businesses. Denver and Pueblo have moratoriums now on new medical marijuana outlets, so the businesses had been coming to Colorado Springs until the current moratorium was imposed.

Unlike the task force that studied cannabis clubs, the medical marijuana group included business owners from the industry, including Dale Hecht, owner of Green Pharm LLC.

"In a lot of ways, they're putting in some ordinances that are kind of beneficial to our business," Hecht said after a Monday morning task force meeting. "We can self-police and try to stay out of the headlines so we can continue to operate in a fairly conservative town ... Or we can have the city codify some of the stuff that should be common sensical but isn't. A lot of what they're codifying ... ultimately will help the perception of our business in the city."

He echoed the perspective of cannabis club supporters who testified to the council last week about the benefits of medical marijuana for many remedies, compared with addictive prescription drugs.

"I guess my frustration with the city is that whether they like it or not, cannabis is here. The only people we're hurting by not allowing recreational (pot sales) are all the public safety people who still have to deal with it but aren't getting revenues that would help them properly do that part."

Hecht, who owns a dispensary, grow operation and MIP plant, now is spending more than $1.5 million to expand his grow, all going to electrical contractors, building suppliers, lighting experts, security contractors and so on.

"And I'm not the big fish in the sea by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "When you also look at the real estate market and what our occupancy rates were six to 12 years ago, I guarantee landlords are a lot happier than they were back then.

"It would be interesting to just survey the contractors in town and get them to quantify what percentage of their business might be attributed to the industry. I bet it would really astound people."

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Billie Stanton Anleu: 636-0371 @stantonanleu

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