By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The Denver City Council last night backed restricting medical marijuana grow operations in residential neighborhoods, to the ire of medical marijuana advocates.
The bill, brought forward by Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, was backed by the City Council on a vote of 12-1. Councilman Doug Linkhart offered the only dissenting vote.
City officials argued that medical marijuana grow operations in residential neighborhoods can cause “substantial health and public safety hazards and nuisances” to the community.
Examples given were increased risks of fire, noxious odors, toxins from mold, as well as unintended consequences such as burglaries.
Medical marijuana advocates, however, said there is no concrete evidence that med pot grow operations lead to increased hazards within individual communities. Advocates said impacts to individual neighborhoods is minimal concerning grow operations in residential neighborhoods.
Still, after a public hearing, the City Council backed the restrictions in residential neighborhoods.
The new zoning ordinance states that for medical marijuana grow operations to take place in residential neighborhoods:
• Residents must be registered with the state as a patient;
• There can be no more than six plants per resident, and no more than 12 plants cumulatively at a given site;
• Medical marijuana cannot be stored in common areas in buildings with multiple units; and
• All medical marijuana must be grown inside a completely enclosed structure.
Robb said the ordinance is about protecting both medical marijuana patients and the overall community with a defined ordinance. She proposed the ordinance after receiving complaints from constituents about a large grow operation in her district near 7th Avenue that included more than 70 plants.
She points out that while she voted in 2000 to allow medical marijuana in Colorado, her ordinance is necessary to give residents on both sides of the aisle clear rules and guidelines to work within.
“The reason it’s a good proposal is that it is clear to growers, caregivers and patients what’s expected in our residential neighborhoods,” Robb told the Denver Daily News prior to the City Council meeting yesterday.
Councilman Charlie Brown included an amendment last night that provided a two-year sunset date for the ordinance so that the City Council can revisit the issue in two years to debate whether the ordinance has been effective, or whether it needs to be tweaked or eliminated.
Critics lined up to oppose the ordinance proposal, including the Denver Releaf Center, a Highlands neighborhood medical marijuana center that organized advocates to oppose the ordinance change yesterday.
Opponents say the new ordinance will essentially prohibit a person from being a caregiver and providing medical marijuana for another person not living in the same house with them.
State law allows a caregiver to grow six plants per patient up to five patients without registering as a medical marijuana center. State law, however, has not yet defined what a caregiver is.
Meanwhile, Jake Browne, general manager of the Releaf Center, attempted to debunk the “foot traffic” argument last night. In a letter to the City Council, Browne said a better solution would be to define an amount of space a resident can grow in in a residential neighborhood, rather than a blanket restriction.
“If this is about foot traffic in residential neighborhoods, let’s give caregivers a framework to work within and find those who abuse the system,” wrote Browne. “If this is about outrage in the community that the sick and dying can have access to medical cannabis, let’s protect the constitutional rights of the latter before bowing to the former. But let us never forget that there are seriously ill people who are dramatically effected by the decisions you make on medical marijuana. For them, this is no laughing matter.”