Approaches to medical marijuana vary widely from city to city

Given the chance this month to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, Breckenridge residents lit up.

More than 70 percent of voters agreed to allow people 21 or older to legally possess 1 ounce or less of the drug. The central Colorado mountain town also recently permitted the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Fewer than 20 miles to the north, on the same night of the vote in Breckenridge, the Dillon Town Council rejected regulations that would have allowed dispensaries and extended a moratorium on them for another three months.

Breckenridge’s and Dillon’s divergent approach to the same issue isn’t unique to Summit County. It’s a scenario playing out here in Mesa County and across Colorado, as dozens of municipalities and counties contemplate how best to handle the burgeoning medical marijuana industry. And they are reaching an array of different conclusions.

The Colorado Municipal League, which provides information to and advocates on behalf of nearly all of the state’s 271 cities and towns, conducted a survey last month asking municipalities how they are addressing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Of the 95 that responded, 45 had received applications from dispensaries, 28 were regulating or considering regulating them and 27 had adopted moratoriums. Fifteen had banned them altogether.

The Grand Junction City Council on Monday is expected to vote on whether to approve a 12-month moratorium on licensing businesses that sell pot for medicinal purposes. The next night, the Fruita City Council will consider allowing dispensaries to set up shop under a number of zoning and security rules.

Rachel Allen, a Colorado Municipal League staff attorney who has researched the issue, said the varying approaches reflect the complicated and controversial nature of medical marijuana, as well as the needs of the individual communities.

Grand Junction City Councilman Gregg Palmer recommended that a city legislative committee examine the issue. The committee, in turn, proposed a moratorium.

Palmer said city officials were caught off guard when the first dispensary opened within city limits because there are virtually no local or state regulations. All a proprietor needs to open a shop in Grand Junction are business and sales-tax licenses. The city has granted at least 19 sales-tax licenses for dispensaries.

“I don’t want to prevent (patients) from getting access to care. That’s between them and their doctor,” Palmer said. “But on the other hand I don’t want to have 97 of them in the community side-by-side. They’re really proliferating anywhere without any guidelines.”

City Attorney John Shaver said the primary purpose of the moratorium is to give the state the chance to develop legislation regulating dispensaries. Absent that, a 12-month timeout should be long enough to allow the city to craft its own standards, he said.

Fruita, meanwhile, appears prepared to proceed with its own rules. A draft ordinance restricts dispensaries’ locations and hours of operation and imposes a number of security requirements.

“We recognize the voters have approved (medical marijuana usage), and now we’re trying to regulate it so that it’s in the best interests of the voters’ approval,” City Manager Clint Kinney said.


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