At its Monday work session, Colorado Springs City Council displayed a rare show of restraint in regulating the marijuana industry. Rather than advancing ordinances establishing a licensing board or carving out hardship exemptions for certain marijuana businesses for a first reading, councilors asked for more information and time.
The recommendations in question came from the Special Marijuana Working Group, a body of various stakeholders that formed out of the new moratorium enacted in May. The group had to address a gap left open by the city's latest policy changes: that council changed where certain marijuana businesses are allowed to be while also preventing them from actually locating there.
Specifically, council rezoned cultivation facilities (OPCs) to a use-by-right in industrial zones and a conditional use in certain commercial zones, created a licensing split for infused product manufacturers (MMIPs) into hazardous (only permitted in industrial zones) and non-hazardous (conditionally permitted in commercial zones), and increased the mandatory buffer between marijuana businesses and schools, child-care centers and drug rehab facilities. But at the same time, the task force convinced Council to put a new moratorium in place, preventing the city licensing office from accepting any applications, even from existing licensees.
So that's the "hardship" the working group means to address: the category of licensed businesses that either want to expand in their current location or move to a legally conforming one. Several councilors, including Don Knight and Andy Pico, wanted to know how many businesses fall into that category before deciding whether to create an exemption for them. City staff didn't have an answer, and no industry representatives were present, but Councilor Larry Bagley estimated three or four.
A representative from the Regional Business Alliance advocated for holding off on the exemptions. "There's not one clear message about what the economic impacts are," she told Council, "but what we don't want is to say OK, hardship exemption, then move someone into a conforming zone only to find out in May 2017 that it's not conforming again."
The issue there is that the working group offered some inklings but no definitive conclusions about zoning recommendations for Economic Opportunity Zones (EOZs) or Urban Renewal Authority areas (URAs). Councilor Jill Gaebler urged city staff not to delay on answering those questions, as did Tom Strand, saying "the moratorium is itself a hardship." He reminded his colleagues to treat dispensaries like the legitimate businesses they are and to "show some humanity" for the patients they serve.
Bridget Seritt of Impact Alliance, a new coalition of patient advocacy groups, put a finer point on it: "Patients already lost the ability to grow and provide for themselves, and if we clamp down on this industry even more we'll be reducing access to medicine even more by badly inflating the cost of the product."
She further reminded Council to "be mindful of who exactly we are trying to help here. ... This law (Amendment 20) was passed to save lives, not to proliferate big business."
Council unanimously decided against creating a marijuana licensing board akin to the alcohol board, and split 4-4 on the hardship exemption issue because Councilor Bill Murray was absent. It will come up again in two weeks at the Oct. 10 work session. Deputy Chief of Staff Bret Waters advised Council that the working group next intends to bring forward a proposal to cap or otherwise limit marijuana business licensing in the city.
MMJ for PTSD advances
Colorado has taken a small but significant step closer to joining 18 other states that consider Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. A panel of five lawmakers unanimously recommended the Legislature add PTSD to the debilitating health conditions outlined by the 16-year-old constitutional amendment that's the backbone of Colorado's medical marijuana system.
The policy change has been rejected four times by the state health board under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. PTSD patients (mostly combat veterans) sued the state arguing the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" given the impediments to conducting the kind of research board members see as necessary.
A major clinical trial on treating PTSD with medical marijuana is now underway after years of bureaucratic resistance. The biggest stumbling block for that study, which was awarded $2 million by the state health board, dissolved recently when the Drug Enforcement Agency expanded sourcing opportunities for scientists. Studies like that of Dr. Sue Sisley can source the cannabis they need from approved in-state growers.
But real victory will have to wait until the outcome of the lawsuit against the state health board or a vote in the Legislature in 2017.