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A tale of two medical marijuana cities


Boulder City Council voted to enact a nine-month moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses, but it might not be as bad for MMJ proponents as it sounds. It’s at least more positive than the chaos that has gripped Fort Collins over such businesses, where a lawsuit, a looming ban and a stupefied City Council have caused a train wreck of uncertainty.

Boulder’s moratorium only affects new applicants and, if the City Attorney, as quoted in the Daily Camera, is to be believed, it’s for the dual sakes of allowing his office to catch up on the work the marijuana industry has generated and to consider tweaking codes to allow the city to collect more from the businesses to cover its costs.

Businesses that are already in operation and those that have applied for new licenses won’t be affected by the moratorium, meaning they can expand or relocate, which might be required of dispensaries located closer than 1,000 feet to a school. The U.S. Attorney’s office has issued letters of warning to such businesses, giving them until Feb. 27 to move or be taken out by the DEA.

In all, the article is peppered with positive comments from city leaders, including Councilwoman Lisa Morzel, who said she’s “not interested in destroying any businesses” and City Attorney Tom Carr who said the moratorium will give his office some breathing room “to be able to do this better.”

Surely, some dispensary owners are wary of the moratorium, especially as the city considers code modifications that could add additional layers of regulation and expense to what is already the most highly regulated industry in the state. But the situation in Boulder is a far sight better than in Fort Collins, where the future of medical marijuana businesses has been thrown into complete disarray.

In November, voters banned that city’s 20 dispensaries, utilizing one of the more controversial options of a state law adopted in 2010, the “opt-out” clause that gives municipalities the choice of banning medical marijuana businesses, either through voter initiative or governmental resolution.

Dispensaries naturally argued against the ban, warning voters that it wouldn’t eliminate medical marijuana from the community, as its proponents claimed, but move it instead into private homes, where the state has no oversight. Despite outspending their opponents, the dispensaries lost the argument and the deadline to close shop and liquidate the stock is Tuesday, Feb. 14.

But last week, a group of holdout dispensary owners filed a lawsuit in Larimer County District Court, claiming the ban is unconstitutional and asking for an injunction. The ruling on the injunction will be heard tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 9. Even if the injunction isn’t granted, the suit will go forward, meaning that if the ban is overturned, dispensaries will have to start from scratch to open again. It would also create a legal precedent that could be used to overturn all bans in communities across Colorado.

Confusing matters further, the City Council on Tuesday gave initial approval to a measure that would eliminate city codes that deal with licensing medical marijuana businesses, an ordinance described by the Fort Collins Coloradoan as a housekeeping measure that anticipates the ban on dispensaries going forward. But some councilmembers are apparently worried about the very thing dispensary owners warned about before the November vote—marijuana operations moving into neighborhoods where they’re beyond the reach of state regulators.

“This, of course, is not what I want in my neighborhood,” Councilman Ben Manvel is quoted as saying. “Do we want to do something which is driving the grows into the neighborhoods?”

The council discussed allowing grow operations in industrial areas, but that would require a change in zoning regulations and take up to six months to implement.

The result of all this is a giant question mark about the future of medical marijuana in Fort Collins. Boulder, at least for now, has managed to avoid the quicksand that its neighbors—in particular, its voters—have found themselves sucked into.