Marijuana

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sen. Gardner defends SAFE Banking Act for cannabis industry

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2019 at 12:37 PM

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At a Senate committee hearing July 23, Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, other lawmakers and representatives from the cannabis industry testified in support of the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

The legislation, years in the making and possibly closer to passage than ever before, would protect financial institutions that work with cannabis-related businesses from federal enforcement action.

"It's the states that are leading on this issue, and the federal government has failed to respond," Gardner said. "It's closed its eyes and plugged its ears and pretended and hoped the issue would just go away, but it won't."

Marijuana’s federal status as a Schedule I controlled substance affects how dispensaries track income — with many forced to operate only in cash, pay bills through personal accounts or pay extra for scarce banking services. Banks and lenders are also hesitant to serve dispensary employees, who often have trouble buying cars and homes.

Gardner, an original cosponsor of the bill (it's sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon), said that while he's been skeptical about cannabis in the past — and opposed the state amendment legalizing recreational weed — improving banking for businesses in the 47 states where some form of weed is legal is something both parties should be able to agree on.

"At a time when all the talk is about how divided we are in our country, we are remarkably united on this issue," Gardner said.

Joanne Sherwood, the president and CEO of Denver-based Citywide Banks and chair of the Colorado Bankers Association, said financial institutions risk coming under federal enforcement action by serving "any person or business that derives revenue from a cannabis firm, including utilities, vendors, employees of cannabis businesses, as well as investors."

Sherwood urged lawmakers to provide clearer regulatory guidance for banks, and emphasized the SAFE Banking Act's benefits for collecting taxes and tracking of cannabis-related financial activities.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colorado, is sponsoring the House's version of the SAFE Banking Act, and has pushed the legislation for years. While the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee (which held the most recent hearing) hasn't yet voted on whether to move the legislation forward, the House measure has passed through several committees and awaits a vote of the full chamber.

Colorado's Attorney General Phil Weiser recently led a bipartisan group of 38 state attorneys general in standing behind the legislation.

Though the landscape around cannabis has certainly changed since Perlmutter first introduced the bill in 2013, not everyone is on board with cannabis banking.

Garth Van Meter, the vice president of government affairs for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, expressed his organization's view that allowing banks to work with cannabis-related businesses would give way to increased drug use and harmful effects on public health and safety.

"It took us over a hundred years to reverse the public health impacts of the tobacco industry, who continually cast doubt on public health advocates with industry-funded bunk science," Van Meter said. "We have an opportunity today not to repeat those mistakes."
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Friday, June 28, 2019

City Council delays decision on Ivywild music venue parking

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2019 at 4:51 PM

Joseph Coleman wants to create a commercial center in the old Blue Star Restaurant building. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Joseph Coleman wants to create a commercial center in the old Blue Star Restaurant building.

Once again, Ivywild neighborhood residents clashed with a developer over a proposal to skirt city code requirements.

At the conclusion of a hearing that ended after 8 p.m. June 25, City Council decided to bookmark the debate until July 9 — prolonging the fight further.

The proposal in question comes from Joseph Coleman of Blue Star Group, which developed the Ivywild School in partnership with Bristol Brewing Company, and operates the Principal's Office and Ivywild Kitchen inside the former school. Coleman wants to convert the warehouse next to Edelweiss Restaurant, which once housed the Blue Star Restaurant, into a commercial center containing a small music venue, medical marijuana dispensary and retail space.

Sound familiar? That's because earlier this year, Coleman and business partner Marc Benning discussed turning the building into a music venue that would accommodate 500 people. But they didn't want to add any parking to the building's existing 26 or so spots.

After that idea met with opposition from residents and neighboring businesses, Coleman proposed the commercial center idea. City code would normally require such a facility to have 46 spots, but the development's proximity to a bike lane on Tejon Street allows a five percent reduction in parking requirements, lowering the quota to 44 required spots.

Urban planning manager Ryan Tefertiller says the developer secured an additional 11 on-street spots for the exclusive use of the commercial center's customers, bringing its total up to 37 spots. But the seven-spot shortage meant Coleman had to apply for a parking variance, which city staff approved administratively.

In May, the neighboring Edelweiss Restaurant and owners of five other surrounding properties appealed staff's decision to approve the parking variance. Here's where it gets complicated. The Planning Commission approved the appeal, and Coleman appealed their approval — sending the parking variance to City Council. (Another appeal, of staff's administrative decision to allow the dispensary less than 1,000 feet from an existing dispensary, was denied by Planning Commission.)

The end result of all those appeals: Councilors found themselves on June 25 debating whether to let Coleman avoid having to add parking for his proposed commercial center.

For the longtime family owners of Edelweiss Restaurant, the issue is deeply personal. Former manager Norman Moss told the Independent in February that over the years, his family had bought four additional lots, and razed five houses and a two-car garage to add enough parking to accommodate their customers.

Edelweiss kept this sign when Blue Star closed. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Edelweiss kept this sign when Blue Star closed.
In the meantime, the family was frustrated by the city's decision to grant Coleman a parking variance for Blue Star Restaurant when it operated in the warehouse building. They say they were forced to defend their own hard-earned parking when the restaurant was open between 1998 and 2017, hiring parking attendants and “booting” people who parked at Edelweiss and ate at Blue Star.

But at the Council hearing, Andrea Barlow, who represented Coleman, described the conflict between the two business owners as a "private matter."

"We have an office building downtown, and we have people in the neighboring residential units parking in our parking lots all the time," says Barlow, co-owner of planning firm N.E.S. Inc. "It happens to every business. You have the means to enact your own enforcement of that as that private property owner."

She added that since the Planning Commission's May decision, Coleman had reached an agreement with a neighboring property owner who said the commercial center could use 13 of his parking stalls in the evening, which would more than satisfy the 44-spot requirement.
Barlow also said creating additional parking went against her client's philosophy.

"They don’t want to tear down buildings to create parking," she told Council. "They want to contribute to a sustainable urban environment."

At the hearing, Moss argued Coleman was "manipulating the code to minimize parking requirements," and feared he would switch out the businesses operating in the commercial center after getting the variance approved, to other uses that would normally have stricter parking requirements.

A handful of Ivywild residents also spoke out against Coleman's appeal, including Marybeth Tryba, vice president of the Ivywild Improvement Society. She said the parking issue was not just about "property owners feuding," but affected the entire neighborhood by flooding the streets with traffic and consuming on-street parking.

"Yes, those streets are public parking," Tryba said. "We understand that. But our streets are narrow. We don’t have sidewalks."

City economic development officer Bob Cope spoke in favor of the appeal on behalf of Jariah Walker, executive director of the South Nevada Urban Renewal Authority. He said Walker believed the project would benefit both the Ivywild neighborhood and South Nevada Urban Renewal Area.

Ultimately, Councilor Don Knight moved to uphold the Planning Commission's decision, and deny Coleman's appeal, saying that it seemed to him that the project would create an adverse impact on the surrounding community, and that denying the parking variance would not unreasonably restrict the uses of the property.

But before Council could vote on that motion, Councilor Wayne Williams moved instead to continue the discussion at a hearing July 9. Council voted 4-3 in favor of that motion, with Councilors Yolanda Avila, Andy Pico and Knight opposed.

Councilors Jill Gaebler and David Geislinger, along with Council President Pro Tem Tom Strand, voted with Williams to continue the discussion. Council President Richard Skorman had recused himself from the discussion given his close relationship with Coleman. Councilor Bill Murray was absent.

The councilors requesting the delay wanted Coleman to provide a more formal, enforceable agreement with the property owner who would allow the use of 13 stalls after 6 p.m. They also wanted to know whether bike racks could be added on the property, as well as signs telling customers not to park in Edelweiss' lots.

Finally, some councilors wanted a restriction on the variance approval requiring "submittal and public notice and a formal approval in order for uses of the property to change over time," Tefertiller says — though he points out that a commercial center designation usually allows tenants to change without having to go through a new approval process.
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Thursday, February 21, 2019

SAFE Banking Act for marijuana businesses to get another go in Congress

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2019 at 10:03 AM

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While they're used to dealing green stuff, most marijuana dispensaries would avoid banking in cash if they could help it. But financial institutions, including banks and lenders, remain dubious about supporting an industry that's illegal under federal law.

Sponsors of the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act say the incoming legislation would make life easier for dispensary owners and employees who constantly have to worry about burglaries, and can't take out loans to grow their businesses or start up new ones.


Last introduced in 2017, the bill would prohibit federal regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related businesses and their owners and employees.

Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.), along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), plan to re-introduce the bill at the end of this month, they said at a hearing on Feb. 13.

“Thousands of employees, businesses and communities across this country... have been put at risk because they have been forced to deal in piles of cash while Congress sticks its head in the sand,” Perlmutter said in a written statement following the hearing, which was titled "Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses."

"The SAFE Banking Act is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safer," Perlmutter continued, "and only Congress can take these steps to provide this certainty for businesses and financial institutions across the country.”

Perlmutter and Merkley last introduced the bill in May 2017. Its original cosponsors included five Coloradans: Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) in the Senate, and former Rep. Mike Coffman (R), Rep. Diana DeGette (D) and now-Gov. Jared Polis in the House.

While the bill didn't get a full vote in either chamber, the political landscape is somewhat different now.

For one, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who has voiced lukewarm support for cannabis reform, is now the top lawmaker in the House. And weed-hating Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been replaced by William Barr, who told lawmakers he doesn't plan to go after companies who relied on Obama-era guidance protecting them from federal scrutiny on cannabis. (Sessions rescinded that guidance, known as the Cole Memorandum, in January 2018 — reportedly leading some banks and ATM companies to stop serving marijuana businesses for fear of a Justice Department crackdown.)

This year's version of the SAFE Banking Act will also include some revisions, summed up by the National Cannabis Industry Association: "It adds protections for ancillary businesses providing products or services to a cannabis-related legitimate business; specifies how businesses on tribal land could qualify; and requires the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council to develop guidance to help financial institutions lawfully serve cannabis-related legitimate businesses."

View the draft legislation discussed Feb. 13 here.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Manitou maintains limit on marijuana dispensaries

Posted By on Tue, Feb 12, 2019 at 3:34 PM

Emerald Fields is one of two recreational dispensaries licensed to operate in Manitou Springs. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Emerald Fields is one of two recreational dispensaries licensed to operate in Manitou Springs.

UPDATE: Manitou Springs City Council voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution affirming the city's two-dispensary limit. Councilor Becky Elder was opposed.

———————————ORIGINAL POST 3:34 P.M. TUES., FEB. 13, 2019———————————

After months of negotiations between a nonprofit advocacy group and city officials over the possibility of adding more recreational marijuana dispensaries, Manitou Springs City Council will consider a resolution that would effectively cut off the discussion — and reaffirm the city’s two-store limit on pot shops.

The possibility of raising the limit to three or four dispensaries was first brought by the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, which approached the mayor in October. Jason Warf, the Cannabis Council’s executive director, says he began the months-long discussion process after someone approached him about wanting to open a marijuana business in Manitou Springs. Currently, Manitou allows just two recreational licenses in city limits, held by Maggie's Farm and Emerald Fields.

Warf says that discussions with the mayor and City Council had looked like they could lead to a compromise between the city and the cannabis industry stakeholders he represented. Possibilities had included an equity program that could benefit women and minorities who applied for licenses.

However, at the Feb. 5 regular meeting, Councilors Susan Wolbrueck and Bob Todd expressed a desire for a special meeting to reaffirm the city's support of a two-store limit, the Pikes Peak Bulletin reported. Manitou Springs Mayor Ken Jaray scheduled the meeting for Feb. 12 — and based on what appears to be widespread opposition to raising the limit among City Councilors, Warf says he'd be surprised if the resolution doesn't pass.

Warf found the city's decision to cut off the discussion "mind-boggling."

"They’re looking at an ordinance to say that they don’t want to pass an ordinance," Warf says. "...That seems like a huge waste of time and rather redundant. And not a great use of taxpayer money."

Jaray concedes that he "was not in favor of the timing of the resolution," but says he supports keeping the two-store limit based on feedback from residents who opposed adding more dispensaries.

"I probably would not have taken up the resolution at this point," he says, "but if a majority of the Council wants to do that then I'm more than willing to have the conversation."

Jaray says community responses to posts on Facebook and NextDoor, a neighborhood social network, about the possibility of raising the limit were overwhelmingly negative: "I haven’t heard [positive feedback] from anybody other than the Cannabis Council and one woman who's wanted to have a license."

Warf argues that he's received emails and phone calls expressing support for a higher limit.

"City Council is claiming ... the proponents haven't provided that input, and the reason there is because we hadn’t gotten to that point in the timeline," Warf says. "I see some disingenuousness from the city saying that, but then sort of rushing through this process without any public input to determine from their constituents that they don't want to move forward on a compromise."

Warf says a group of cannabis business owners plan to seek a special election to have voters decide whether the city needs more dispensaries. The Cannabis Council will not be involved in the signature gathering, but he says it will likely support such a ballot initiative, depending on the exact language.

The group plans to start polling voters and collecting signatures in the near future, Warf says.

Councilor Ward pointed out in a file:///Users/nat/Downloads/Agenda_2019_2_12_Meeting(223)%20(1).pdf" target="_blank">memorandum addressed to City Council that a special election would cost taxpayers between $15,000 and $20,000.

The special meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 9 p.m. in City Hall, 606 Manitou Avenue. Also on the agenda: An update on the relocation of three Pikes Peak Cog Railway cars.

Read the full resolution here:

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sessions to open door for marijuana crackdown

Posted By on Thu, Jan 4, 2018 at 1:56 PM

senate_judiciary_committee_chairman_sen._jeff_sessions_r-al.jpg

UPDATE: U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer of Colorado's District has now responded to the new guidance on marijuana enforcement. He released this vague statement:

Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions — focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state.  We will, consistent with the Attorney General’s latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado.

What we still don't know is whether Troyer, who replaced former U.S. Attorney John Walsh in August 2016 and was then officially appointed by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November, believes, like Sessions apparently does, that the use, possession and distribution of marijuana represents one of "the greatest safety threats to our communities."

——ORIGINAL POST: 11:08 A.M. THURS. JAN. 4——

After about a year of wondering “will he or won’t he?” it appears the answer is: “He will.”

As of Jan. 4, multiple news outlets reported that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to rescind an important Obama era drug enforcement policy known as the Cole Memo. The Cole Memo, named for then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole, was issued in 2013, after voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures legalizing marijuana for recreational use. It was meant to address the conflict with federal law, which still holds that marijuana is a Schedule I substance (meaning, highly addictive with no medical benefit).

Sent to federal prosecutors in the relevant states, the memo set out guidance for their prosecution of marijuana-related crimes. "The [Department of Justice is] committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent and rational way," it stated. Therefore, the DOJ would expect state and local authorities to police health and safety issues through a robust regulatory system while it would reserve its own resources for priority cases like sale to minors, interstate diversion and gang activity.

The Cole Memo created an environment that let state regulators, cannabis businesses and consumers feel comfortable partaking of the state-legalized substance, knowing that if they basically followed the rules, they had nothing to worry about. It encouraged investment and growth. In Colorado, the recreational side of the industry brings in over a billion dollars in sales annually, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue for schools, law enforcement and addiction treatment.

That environment is about to change. It doesn't necessarily mean that federal agents are about to swoop into the six states that have legalized, wiping everything out and sending everyone to prison. But it does mean renewed uncertainty about the status of legalized weed.

Here's Sessions' new memo, via Politico.
We've put in a call to the U.S. Attorney's office in Colorado to see how its attorneys are thinking of the policy change and will report back when we hear something.

In the meantime, industry players, advocates and elected officials are responding.

The Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, a group that advocates for patients, posted a statement saying they're prepared to "stand up" to Sessions.

Sal Pace, the Democratic County Commissioner from Pueblo said this in a statement: "A reversal of the sovereign voice of the American public is an assault on the intellect of Americans, an assault on the fundamental tenants of democracy, and an attack on the Constitutional guarantee of states’ rights."

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner put this statement out:

Reports that the Justice Department will rescind their current policy on legal marijuana enforcement are extremely alarming. Before I voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this Administration. Today’s action directly contradicts what I was told, and I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation. In 2016, President Trump said marijuana legalization should be left up to the states and I agree.

Colorado's  U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, on Twitter, wrote: "In rescinding the Cole memo, the Attorney General failed to listen to Colorado, and will create unnecessary chaos and confusion."
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