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Council paves the way for continued local MMJ dispensaries 

Medical marijuana centers will continue to operate in Colorado Springs, under a pre-application ordinance City Council passed Tuesday.

The ordinance requires a $500 application fee for each of the three facets of MMJ production — growing, dispensing and creating edibles — and ensures that centers be at least 400 feet away from schools, alcohol and drug treatment centers, and residential child care facilities.

With the 6-3 vote, Council acted on concerns that its regular ordinance approval process would extend well into the summer. That would have kept MMJ centers from being locally approved prior to the July 1 deadline laid out in House Bill 1284, leaving them at risk of closure.

"It's a good day for democracy; a good day for patient's rights," said KC Stark, CEO of Aromas and Herbs, after the meeting. "It was a tough fight and it's not over yet. It's just one step closer to giving patients their constitutional rights."

Councilors Darryl Glenn, Randy Purvis and Scott Hente cast the dissenting votes.

Public input and debate carried on for more than two hours Tuesday afternoon, to a packed house at City Hall. Opposition to the ordinance came forward right from the start.

"We need to have Council put it on the ballot," said Steve Wind, who previously came before Council to protest a center opening in the old Mission Inn restaurant on North Academy Boulevard. "If the answer is 'no,' let's stop talking about it, OK? Let's make this a place that we want to have our kids and grandkids grow up in."

Also advocating a citizen vote was the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. But its representative, Ernest House, ran into problems after Council questioning revealed the Chamber's position was based on a 24-hour member survey that received 115 responses.

"I'm not impressed with those numbers you've got," said Vice Mayor Larry Small. "Last count, I saw you had over 2,400 members in the Chamber. If you narrow it down to the number that supported it, I don't think it warrants you being here saying you're representing the position of your membership."

"I just want to clarify what I'm hearing," Councilor Tom Gallagher added rhetorically. "The Chamber of Commerce is advocating the cessation of 150-plus small businesses?"

District Attorney Dan May also spoke, citing the number of national emergency room visits related to marijuana use. That drew requests for clarification and heated comments from Councilor Sean Paige, who said, "You constantly come before us with statistics just pulled out of the air."

"There's no question that is going to have an impact on our city," May replied. "And it will be a new impact that wasn't there before."

Final city action awaits thorough review and enactment of a land and zoning ordinance, as well as creation of more detailed business regulations (i.e. signage, operating hours, etc.).

In the interim, medical marijuana patients like Jim Rainey — who told Council he was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam — will cherish the ability to live a more normal life, with legal protection.

"I am a diabetic who has been faced with amputation, with kidney failure, a host of other serious complications," Rainey said. "As a result of being able to have access to medical marijuana ... in my home state here in Colorado, I'm no longer a candidate for kidney replacement, because my kidneys are functioning well."

bryce@csindy.com

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