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Dispensary owners, other medical marijuana players tell Springs City Councilors: Bring on the regulations

Conservative ideology would have us believe that regulation is the enemy of business.

And yet, Colorado's hottest new industry is practically begging the government to lay down the law. In Colorado Springs, the city's Medical Marijuana Task Force has conducted months of meetings — some attended by more than 100 growers, dispensary owners, patients and industry workers — with the sole purpose of creating laws that will restrict their ability to peddle their product. They're just finishing up a 14-page draft ordinance they hope will get City Council's blessing.

"The industry put this together," says Councilor Tom Gallagher, who, with Councilor Sean Paige, headed the group. "And it's not like one page [saying], 'We have the right to do this.' It's pretty detailed. There's penalties for violations."

Many industry workers say they want to prove they can follow rules and be good neighbors — before the state Legislature finds its own ways to regulate the industry. State lawmakers plan to introduce bills restricting the practices of doctors who prescribe marijuana and limiting the number of patients a licensed caregiver can serve.

"The upcoming state regulation takes dispensaries out of the picture," says Jarvis Webster, who owns Tree of Wellness dispensary. "I think medical marijuana would be very easy to sweep under the rug."

The local draft ordinance still has to be picked over by the city attorney's office, reviewed by the public, and approved by City Council. (The first, informal presentation to Council is scheduled for Feb. 8.) Presumably, there will be some changes along the way.

Under the law in its current form, a grower serving fewer than six patients would be exempt from regulations. Larger operations, like dispensaries where patients buy pot, would have to be located in commercial areas, pay taxes, take security precautions, install security cameras and alarms, stay closed during night hours, run clean and quiet operations, and operate at least 250 feet from any K-through-12 school.

Growers follow similar rules, though an operation with fewer than 96 plants would be allowed to operate in a residential neighborhood.

New regulations would prevent caregivers from growing more plants than their patient load allows (six plants per patient) and would ensure signage does not include depictions of marijuana or associated paraphernalia. Penalties for not following the rules could include having a business shut down, revocation of a marijuana license, or even jail time.

Is all this strict enough?

"Let's just say some of the more progressive communities in the area think it's a little too loose," Gallagher says, apparently referring to Manitou Springs. "But it's a good start point."

Councilor Randy Purvis hasn't seen the ordinance, but says he expects any ordinance will include appropriate buffer zones around schools, places of worship and residential neighborhoods. He thinks restrictions should be similar to those placed on liquor or adult stores.

Whatever the ultimate decision, industry people say the draft ordinance wasn't thrown together arbitrarily.

"We want to make sure our industry is stepping up to the regulations rather than stepping around them," says Tanya Garduno of the Colorado Springs Medical Marijuana Council.

Garduno says the industry expects to compromise on some issues, but wants regulations to be flexible enough to accommodate a family that just wants to grow a few plants for its own use. If regulations are too strict, she notes, they'll just fuel a black market.

stanley@csindy.com

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