Grand Junction City Council votes to ban pot dispensaries

Sherrel Carlson speaks at the Grand Junction City Council’s public hearing on the proposed prohibition of medical marijuana commercial activity at City Hall on Monday.

Medical marijuana dispensary owners were correct to predict that Grand Junction City Council members would vote Monday night to shutter their shops.

Council members voted 6-1 to close pot stores in the city limits by Jan. 1, 2011, with mayor Theresa Coons dissenting.

“This isn’t an emotional issue. We’ve prepared for this,” said Cat Coughran, who represents 17 of Grand Junction’s 23 dispensaries through the nonprofit group Mesa County Constitution Advocates. “This outcome is not a shock to us.”

It does mean pot shop owners will be fighting back.

What will come next is a petition drive for the council to reconsider their vote, a possible election to let city voters decide the fate of dispensaries and a possible legal battle, dispensary owners said. The later options could wind up causing the city to spend taxpayer dollars.

Tae Darnell, an attorney with the Cannabis Law Center in Denver, said dispensary owners in Grand Junction have been in contact with his law firm about retaining their services pending the decision of Grand Junction council members.

“I would anticipate we would be involved with that process,” he said about filing a lawsuit that would pit Grand Junction dispensary owners and patients against the city.

The attorney group is suing the town of Westminster after council members there banned medical marijuana dispensaries. The suit is brought on by one dispensary owner who was charged criminally when he failed to shutter his business after it was banned in city limits.

But Grand Junction council member Bill Pitts, who said he has been doing business locally for the past four years, said there is inherent risk in running any kind of business. He voted to prohibit dispensaries because medical marijuana has not been approved by the government as possessing any medical benefit. He was also concerned about medical marijuana filtering into the schools and more easily getting into youths’ hands.

Pitts said he appreciated a presentation by Cristin Groves which she detailed ways in which medical marijuana facilities could further be regulated by the city as opposed to shutting them completely. Groves also said that an estimated 2,000 medical marijuana patients in Grand Junction would require about 400 caregivers to grow enough marijuana.

“It’s astounding to me that we have that many patients,” Pitts said.

If that many people would grow the drug, Groves said, the product would take months to mature and be ready to use. That would leave patients in the lurch. Another argument concluded that city officials would not be able to control caregivers, though there could be regulations set in place to control commercial operations.

Other council members said that they voted to close shops because they couldn’t find any evidence in House Bill 1284 that it intended dispensaries, or a retail outlet to provide medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal for those in Colorado with a physician’s recommendation and a state-issued license. A caregiver, or another person may grow and administer the drug to patients. A dispensary also can act as a caregiver to a patient.

Under a more recent law, cities can decide whether they want medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in their towns.

Mayor Coons said that although the law doesn’t speak to retail outlets that doesn’t mean the law prohibits dispensaries. She, too, worried about the effects of marijuana with children. However, she also addressed the effect a ban would have on dispensary owners who may have to close up shops “putting existing businesses out of business” and the possibility of those businesses opening back up if council members changed their minds in the near future. Coons also said she believed medical marijuana, like other drugs, is getting closer to being regulated under a pharmacy model, which would provide more of the regulations that council members said they needed to feel comfortable about allowing shops.

“I am concerned that we’ve taken the prohibition approach,” she said. “I don’t think it worked in the past and I’m not sure it will in the future.”


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