Sunday, May 16, 2010

City Council wrestles with MMJ

Posted By on Sun, May 16, 2010 at 8:39 PM

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A series of e-mails between local medical marijuana center owners and the Colorado Springs City Council make it clear that the pressure to act is being felt from top to bottom. The question is: how?

The action started when Council was questioned by Maureen (last name withheld) of Colorado GrowHouse regarding the fact that all city MMCs are outside compliance with House Bill 1284 due to the provision stating that only locally approved centers will be eligible to operate during the one-year moratorium starting July 1 (this assuming they comply with everything else in the bill). Due to no existing provision in place, closure would otherwise be inevitable.

First up, Bernie Herpin, responding to a question about the likelihood of Council enacting a resolution within six weeks:

Even if we don't have a local ordinance in effect by July 1st, and I would think that would be our goal, I think existing clinics could continue under the state law. I am hopeful that we will have our local ordinance in place by July 1st.

And in a follow-up e-mail:

The city is not dragging its feet and council has supported MMJ ever since the issue was raised last fall. Our staff has put a lot of work into getting the ordinance ready and the procedures in place.

Mr. [Tom] Gallagher?

Bernie, I respectfully disagree. The fact is because we have elected to "wait on the state" we have no mechanism in place to grant "local approval" as required under HB 1284 and a statutory process that requires a formal hearing before the Planning Commission and two readings before the City Council. That requires at least 6 weeks to accomplish.

In an effort to prevent the situation we now find ourselves in, Councilman Paige and myself took the bull by the horns and working with members of the community and industry and developed a proposed ordinance to the 95 percent level. This required more than 15 public meetings that occurred between Nov. 2009 and the end of Jan. 2010. The draft ordinance framework was handed off to the city in early February. Since the ball was placed in the city's hands, there have been two meetings because "we are waiting on the state."

Later, Mayor Rivera got in on the act in response to Cathey DeRosa from Mercy Wellness Center, and her concerns about the time frame:

I plan to have a business licensing ordinance in front of City Council for a vote in time to meet state deadlines. We have worked with the MMD [sic] task force to be ready to implement our local rules (subject to City Council approval) once the state law is signed by the governor.

And what will that plan be? See Councilman Gallagher's — as well as City Clerk Katherine Young's, Assistant City Manager Nancy Johnson's, and Planning Director Dick Anderwald's — proposal and strategy after the jump.

The city had planned on bringing two ordinances to the City Council that were developed concurrently. One would address business licensing the other would address land use and zoning. Only the ordinance addressing the land use and zoning codes requires a hearing before the City Planning Commission.

The opportunity (should the City Council agree to do so) is to bifracate the business license ordinance from its zoning counterpart and adopt it through an expedited process.

The problem?

There will be heavy push back from the neighborhoods to this. They will claim this is an end run around the promised public process and they will be right. The fact is this approach definitely puts the cart before the horse. It is asking the City Council to approve the issuance of business licenses before it establishes the compliance criteria for that license.

The reality is also this, the neighborhood issues and concerns will be largely addressed through the ordinance governing the additions, amendments, and definitions being added to the Land Use and Zoning Codes. Since HB 1284 imposes a 1 year moratorium on new Medical Marijuana businesses beginning July 2nd so the need to expedite the land use and zoning ordinance isn't critical. There can and will be an extensive public process on it. Failure to concede and support this will kill any chance of expediting the business licensing ordinance.

If you support this process, and want to make some noise, Gallagher has two ideas:

First launch an intensive campaign that stresses the need to take action. It must be an issue or things will move at the speed of government and you lose. The focus of the campaign then shifts from a call for action to support for this action when it gets rolled out. This means flooding the editorial pages of the Gazette and the Independent. You should also try the new weekly The Constitutionalist [sic] but don't hold your breath.

And then?

You must also inundate City Hall with phone calls and e-mail. Try to avoid canned e-mail because it gets disregarded. If someone can't take the time to express their own opinion how strongly do they really feel about the issue? The industry needs to generate at least the appearance of a large broad based level of community support. That means both quantity and quality count. The City's new phone system has virtually unlimited voice mail. Use it to your advantage.

So how will this all end up? Stay tuned.

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