By Joshua Wolpe, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A City Council committee Wednesday split on zoning restrictions, on-site consumption and sales-tax license requirements for regulating the budding medical marijuana industry in Denver.
The Safety Committee met for a marathon morning meeting to debate a proposed ordinance by Councilman Charlie Brown. The ordinance would regulate the city’s rapidly expanding number of medical marijuana dispensaries.
The debate centered on issues including the distance dispensaries would need to be from schools and each other, the date dispensaries would need to comply with the proposed zoning restrictions, and on-site consumption of marijuana at dispensaries.
Brown’s proposed regulations currently state that dispensaries would not be allowed to operate within 500 feet of a school, or 1,000 feet from another dispensary.
The chair of the Safety Committee, Doug Linkhart, said he would like to see the distance from schools increased to 1,000 feet.
The Council committee split on the date when owners of dispensaries who do not meet the proposed zoning regulations would need to prove that they were operational to be given a license. Brown’s proposed date is Dec. 1, but some Council members see that as unfair.
“I’m not comfortable with setting a date,” said Councilman Chris Nevitt. “People are spending real money in setting up these businesses under the assumption that these businesses are legal. I’m willing to buy the issue of distances from schools – but what exactly are we doing when we say two dispensaries can’t be near each other?”
Other members disagreed, saying that city blocks could soon be filled with dispensaries. Councilman Paul Lopez is in favor of a policy such as Aurora’s liquor store regulations, which prohibits them from being within 2,000 feet of each other.
“I’m personally sick and tired of seeing liquor store after liquor store, and check cashing place after check cashing place in my district,” he said. “It’s not fair to the community and the families there.”
Brown went on record proposing that the compliance date be changed to Jan. 1.
“I think we need to respect the people who have invested in this,” he said.
Another hot-button issue in the medical marijuana debate is whether patients should be allowed to consume marijuana at dispensaries. Council members are particularly concerned about patients driving after consuming.
“I do not believe that’s what voters had in mind in 2000 — to have cannabis clubs on site,” said Brown, referencing Amendment 20, which voters passed in 2000 legalizing medical marijuana. “I am adamantly opposed to on-site consumption.”
Others feel that patients should be able to consume marijuana in a safe environment. Linkhart suggested that dispensaries may have devices safer than smoking, such as vaporizers, that patients may only have access to on-site.
Councilwoman Marcia Johnson suggested a safe environment could be the best option, especially for inexperienced users.
“You should learn how to use it at the dispensary – learn its effect,” she said.
Brown closed the day’s debate with a quip about how long and drawn out the regulation process has become.
“It’s like watching a pie move through a python,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the Council meeting was taking place, a dispensary at 3005 W. Gill Place was robbed shortly after 10 a.m.
Denver Police said that when officers arrived at the scene and entered the business, they discovered one suspect who was being detained by employees.
The suspect had apparently sustained injuries as a result of a physical altercation with the victims. The second suspect fled the scene prior to the officer’s arrival. The injured suspect was transported to Denver Health Medical Center for treatment of injuries.
Police are still searching for the second suspect, who is described as a Hispanic man, approximately 6-foot tall with short hair, a slim build, and wearing a black coat.
Police say that since July, there have been a total of 25 medical marijuana-related robberies or burglaries — 13 of which occurred at dispensaries, and 12 at residences.
Brown’s proposal goes to the Mayor-Council meeting next week, with a reading at Denver City Council on Jan. 4 and a public hearing on Jan. 11.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters