By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Medical marijuana advocates are lit up over the possibility that Denver police officers might be able to confiscate the security tapes of medical marijuana dispensaries at any given time.
Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown Wednesday presented an outline of his medical marijuana reform bill. One of the proposed reforms would require all medical marijuana dispensaries to have a security camera with footage that goes back at least three days. Under the proposed bill, law enforcement agencies would then be granted access to the surveillance videos without having to get a warrant.
While Brown positioned the security cameras as a safety issue, several lawyers that represent dispensaries called the proposal a violation of patients’ right to privacy.
“For the police to be able to walk in and just say we think something is going wrong here and we have to seize everything, that is not the type of protection that is afforded to a legitimate business,” said Brett Barney, an attorney who represents medical marijuana dispensaries. “And because we are dealing with a legal product, we should have the same protections that a legitimate business should have.”
Under Brown’s proposed bill, a medical marijuana dispensary would have to be in a fixed location — meaning no traveling vans — and only sell the drugs indoors. Additionally, the dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from schools and childcare facilities, more than 1,000 feet from other dispensaries, and potentially have their hours restricted from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Owners of the dispensaries would be subject to criminal background checks.
“I think it’s a privilege to have a (business) license … (and) with that privilege comes responsibility,” Brown said.
Several lawmakers Wednesday said their constituents have expressed worry about being inundated with medical marijuana signs as they drive with their children across town. Although he called the marijuana leaf “a beautiful thing,” medical marijuana attorney Rob Corry said that he thinks the dispensaries could reach a compromise with the city over signage. However, in return he implied that the dispensaries and patients would want more confidentiality, including forcing law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before confiscating surveillance videos.
“Safety has to be the primary goal … (and) patients are safe through confidentiality,” he said.
Brown’s bill seeks to define a medical marijuana dispensary and regulate the industry on the city level. Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, is looking to address some of the broader issues on the state level.
Romer said Wednesday that he is looking to create a “robust regulatory model” in his reform bill. Part of that regulatory model might include licensing dispensaries like a liquor store, not allowing large cash transactions, and.
The senator added that the state would levy a 2.9-percent sales tax on dispensaries, and that his legislation might allow cities to levy an excise tax of up to 20 percent. Starting Dec. 1, medical marijuana dispensaries will be subject to a 3.62-percent city sales tax.
As Corry pointed out, Denver’s medical marijuana industry is one of the few business groups in history that has been openly asking to be taxed.
“We want legitimacy, and this is a revenue source for the city that is suffering from severe financial problems,” he said.
The Denver City Council is looking to finalize some of its initial plans on regulating the medical marijuana industry during a Dec. 2 meeting.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters