By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
An El Paso County District Court ruling this week could set a precedent for municipalities to run ballot initiatives that would prohibit future and existing medical marijuana businesses, advocates fear.
El Paso County District Court Judge Timothy Simmons ruled on Wednesday that the controversial ballot initiative can remain on the ballot, despite a lawsuit by 16 medical marijuana businesses seeking to have the initiative removed from the ballot. Advocates argued that the initiative violates the state constitution after voters legalized medical marijuana in 2000.
Attorneys argued that new state regulations allow municipalities to regulate medical marijuana centers, but does not authorize municipalities to ban medical marijuana centers after approving them in the first place.
Simmons ruled that it would be improper for a court to interfere by imposing a pre-election judicial action. He denied the motion to stop the votes from being tallied.
“The electorate are entitled to believe that their votes will be counted, and they’ll know the results and that the election will mean something,” Simmons said in his ruling, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Medical marijuana advocates fear that the ruling could set a precedent for other municipalities across the state to run similar ballot initiatives. There are currently 13 counties in Colorado considering bans on medical marijuana centers, according to Americans For Safe Access. El Paso is the most unique because the initiative would also close all existing operations.
Another 18 individual cities in Colorado are considering bans on medical marijuana centers, according to Americans For Safe Access.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said it’s time for municipalities to consider medical marijuana centers businesses like any other business in Colorado.
“They seek the right to continue operating their businesses with the same authority they were granted by their government when they first opened their doors,” said attorney Bob Hoban. “The county’s actions here reflect an unconstitutional attempt at a regulatory taking. They can’t say ‘yes’ to such business, take our clients’ money, and then reverse course on a whim.”
Advocates are hopeful, however, that if El Paso County bans medical marijuana centers and closes existing centers, that the existing business owners will be entitled to monetary relief for destroying their business.
Steve Hammers, a plaintiff in the case, said it would be “devastating” for the county to close his business.
“When in American history has it been acceptable to let businesses start, invest, and then force them to shut down?” he asked. “It is blatantly unlawful to regulate, allow building permits, collect fees, and then vote to ban the industry.”