It wouldn't be medical marijuana in Colorado Springs if the city and the industry immediately saw eye-to-eye on something. Take the disconnect noticed by Tanya Garduno during a meeting the city clerk's office conducted last week to preview its licensing fees.
"They need to understand that there are no longer 187 businesses in Colorado Springs, and we cannot be the cash cow for the city," wrote the president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council in an e-mail. "We expect a licensing fee, but a reasonable and justifiable one. Some auditing of the process for future costs would also be appreciated — what do we really 'cost' the city?"
On Tuesday, City Council unanimously decided to approve a non-refundable $2,200 general application fee, and to study other proposed charges in the next 60 days. Those include: a $1,800 license for each center, optional premises cultivation or infused-product manufacturer business; $2,200 for any transfer of ownership; $1,500 for any location change; $1,000 for any "modification of the premises" license; and a $700 renewal application fee.
Attorney Clifton Black estimates that if the fees go through as proposed, the average center owner would pay $6,000 or more to the city to obtain licensure, and a minimum of $2,500 per year thereafter. This, in addition to the minimum licensure fee of $8,750 charged by the state.
"These fees just aren't really related to monitoring these companies," says Black. "It's almost like, the way this whole industry has been is, 'Look at this medical marijuana business; we can go after them and exploit them for fees.'"
The "grab-bag" mentality has contributed to tough times for small-business owners. Garduno estimates roughly 60 centers are still active in the city, while the Gazette reports that sales tax licenses — which are held by infused-products manufacturers as well as centers, and have generated more than $230,000 for the city's general fund in 2011 alone — have dropped from 205 in June 2010 to 160 in April.
In any case, the fees were bound to get scrutiny from the new Council.
"The first one that really caught my eye is a fingerprint card," Councilor Angela Dougan said before Tuesday's meeting. "Because I'm a substitute teacher — I go down and get my fingerprints done every so often — and I paid about $15 four years ago to get my fingerprints done at the police station. And I saw $40. So I want to know: Did the price of getting your fingerprints done increase, or are we padding it for some reason?"
So Council will study the additional fees to check actual costs. The anticipated costs are higher than in Denver — where only center licenses are issued, for a $2,000 application fee and a $3,000 annual fee.
Also, Black notes, the application fee includes $550 to pay for police responses to burglaries and robberies — of which there have been 64 and three, respectively, since January 2010. Those services, of course, are otherwise covered by the city's general fund.
"You don't have any other businesses having to pay for police protection," Black says. "[Center owners] get burglarized by the criminals, and now the city's coming after them and saying, 'Guess what? You have to pay us a fee for that protection.'"