Protest failure reveals fractures in local cannabis industry 


click to enlarge A Wellness: really pulling strings? - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • A Wellness: really pulling strings?

Monday afternoon didn't quite go as planned.

Local activists had scheduled a protest outside A Wellness Center, a dispensary on Fillmore Street managed by Tom Scudder, who sits on the city's Special Marijuana Working Group and has become persona non grata in patient rights circles. But the time specified for picketing came and went without much if any action at all. Around five people showed up, milled around a nearby 7-Eleven, then left.

The fumble, apparently, resulted from miscommunication and disorganization, according to a participant who didn't want to be named. (The protest's point person reportedly left town, and other allies decided they couldn't be involved in direct action anymore, leaving a leadership vacuum that deterred some participants from showing.) Those who did show held signs that said "Boycott A Wellness" and "Patients Over Profits" but didn't make any contact with incoming patients, employees or managers before leaving.

Scudder, on his part, tried to meet beforehand with the activists, but his invitations were spurned. "If you're going to protest someone, I think you should at least be willing to talk to them, right?" Scudder said. "I guess I happen to be a bull's-eye who's easy to know and see, but I'm on their side and that's the frustrating thing."

Organizers of the protest take issue with Scudder's part in passing policies they see as infringing on constitutional rights pertaining to medical marijuana use.

The 12-plant limit on home grows that City Council passed in May is perhaps the greatest cause of consternation for those wanting to be self-sufficient. Scudder was one of two or three pro-cannabis representatives on the last iteration of the marijuana task force that recommended the plant count ordinance.

Scudder denies sole responsibility for that ordinance. "I think it's legitimate the lack of representation [patients] feel," he said. "But a patient or two on [the task force] wouldn't have changed the outcome ... especially when we were one of the last cities to regulate in this way and we've got a mayor who's stated he doesn't want any homegrows whatsoever."

The other policy that bothers protesters is a licensing cap, which Scudder has championed. He proposed it when the last task force presented to Council, and it's slated to be the primary topic at the next working group meeting Wednesday morning, Oct. 5, at the City Administration Building.

Scudder's argument starts with the fact Colorado Springs is brimming with 136 medical marijuana centers, about a quarter of the total statewide, despite the city having only about 8 percent of the state's total population. Given that, Scudder feels it's appropriate to protect existing businesses without strangling them with regulation or letting bigger chains wipe them out.

Most municipalities have some sort of cap or moratorium that restricts proliferation of marijuana businesses, including Denver, Aurora, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Littleton, Thornton and Wheat Ridge.

"We don't have a free market right now; that's what people need to understand," Scudder told the Indy, adding that a cap would prevent squeezing small businesses so tight they are tempted to divert to the black market. He says a cap also would enable owners to pay employees better wages and, pertinent to protesters' desires, preserve their ability to do charity.

"[A Wellness] used to do a lot in terms of giving out significantly discounted or sometimes free product to indigent patients," Scudder recalls. "But sales fell off a cliff recently, and that restricts our ability to do all we want to do for the community."

Most of all, he's worried about fracturing in the pro-legalization movement.

"Maybe I'm naïve, but it felt like in the beginning we were all on the same team," Scudder said. "There'll always be this natural tension between businesses and patients because they serve two different masters, and maybe I'm just more aware of that now."

As the industry at-large goes through normalization and professionalization, there's less need for public agitation. "We need to have a seat at the table to work with the city — that's really the only way to really affect the law," he said. "I really hope we can be more united and more solutions-focused."

None of the protest organizers, other than the one unnamed source, was available for comment.

Editor's note: This is story has been updated for clarity.


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