Monday, January 4, 2010

Denver Marijuana Regulation Bill Clears Committee, To Be Debated By City Council

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver would be barred from opening within 1,000 feet of one another and from locating within 1,000 feet of schools under proposed regulations forwarded Wednesday to the City Council.

Existing Denver marijuana dispensaries and those that obtain sales-tax licenses from the city on or before Jan. 1 would not be subject to the new rules as tentatively approved by council members during a safety-committee meeting.

Council members Doug Linkhart and Chris Nevitt pushed for fewer regulations on the dispensaries. They said the industry was creating jobs, boosting sales-tax revenue and fulfilling a crucial need for ill patients.

Others, such as council members Charlie Brown, Paul Lopez, Jeanne Faatz, Carol Boigon, Rick Garcia and Judy Montero, said tighter guidelines were needed to keep the dispensaries from running amok.

Brown, who has worked on the regulations for the past three months, said he felt the work had been like "watching a pie move through a python."

In addition to limiting proximity of dispensaries to one another and to schools, the regulatory framework proposed by Brown and approved by the council's safety committee would:

• Limit dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of child-care centers.

• Bar felons or those who have completed any portion of a felony sentence within the past five years from operating a dispensary.

• Bar onsite consumption of medical marijuana at dispensaries.

The proposed regulations now go to the full council for initial consideration Jan. 4 and a public hearing and final vote on Jan. 11.

Voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana. The issue has gained steam this year as local and state officials grapple with rapid growth in the number of Denver dispensaries and registered users.

State health officials estimate that they will receive 23,000 applications for medical-marijuana cards this year, up from 4,720 in 2008.

194 tax licenses issued

The council committee acted as officials reported that as of Dec. 1, the city had issued 138 sales-tax licenses to operators of medical-marijuana dispensaries. By Tuesday, the number had grown to 194.

Council members clashed on whether the city should bar dispensaries from setting up near schools and child-care centers, and from clustering close to other dispensaries.

"I am sick and tired of seeing in my district liquor store after liquor store and check-cashing place after check-cashing place, and now it will be dispensaries," Lopez said.

Councilman Nevitt questioned whether his colleagues were overreacting.

"Is it like this is dark matter, and we're afraid something is going to explode?" Nevitt asked, saying he was particularly perplexed over the push to keep dispensaries from locating near one another.

Council members decided against supporting Boigon's effort to bar dispensaries from locating close to city parks, churches and public buildings.

The issue then became just when the distance requirements should take effect. Brown originally proposed that the distance requirements would apply only to dispensaries that had an active sales-tax license after Dec. 1, which would allow those receiving a sales-tax license before then to continue operating, regardless of where they were located.

On Wednesday, Brown said he feared that time frame would unfairly penalize those who had invested in opening up a new dispensary but hadn't met that deadline. Brown urged his colleagues to apply the distance requirements only to those dispensaries that receive their sales-tax license on or after Jan. 1.

Tie broken

The council split on the issue before, eventually settling on the Jan. 1 deadline.

Council members voting for the January deadline were Brown, council president Jeanne Robb, Linkhart, Nevitt, Carla Madison and Marcia Johnson.

Those voting for the Dec. 1 deadline were Montero, Boigon, Lopez, Hancock, Faatz and Garcia.

Because the council was locked 6-6, it deferred to the official safety-committee members, with Robb, Linkhart and Madison finally defeating Lopez and Faatz on the issue.

Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann, the 13th council member and the only one not to vote publicly on the deadline, effectively becomes the swing vote.

Brown said later in the day that he was trying to broker a deal that would win unanimous support for the proposed regulations by compromising on a Dec. 15 sales-tax deadline to avoid the restriction on locations.

Hancock said he also might separately try to get a moratorium placed on the issuance of any new sales-tax licenses for dispensaries until Jan. 1.

For more information on this City Council meeting check out: Medical Marijuana Ordinance
Article source: Denver Post

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