Liquor store rules might apply to pot shops

With Colorado legislators working on rules and a moratorium on opening new dispensaries through December, Grand Junction City Council members have time to ponder city-specific regulations on medical marijuana growers and providers.

But visions of distance limits, background checks, keeping records of where growing operations are located, and setting parameters for when dispensaries can be open are already dancing in some council members’ heads.

Council member Tom Kenyon recently traveled to Denver and spoke with legislators about medical marijuana. He learned the topic is divisive, but he got some ideas for tenable solutions.

Kenyon said he would like city and/or state regulations to:

include a way to track where marijuana is grown for medicinal purposes;

check the quality of the marijuana and the edible products it is placed in; and

create a fee for marijuana dispensaries that would help pay for any administrative, oversight or filing work the city may have to do to keep up with new regulations.

“Taxpayers at large should not have to pay for that,” Kenyon said.

Kenyon said he would like to ensure the city would be able to get or keep federal grants, too, considering most grant applications require the city to abide by federal laws, one of which decrees marijuana use is illegal.

Kenyon also favors having medical marijuana shops follow distance limits and background-check provisions similar to those liquor stores must follow in Grand Junction.

Councilwoman Bonnie Beckstein said she also favors this step.

“I’d like to see them as far removed from family neighborhoods as they can be, as well as schools and churches,” she said.

In Grand Junction, liquor stores must be at least 500 feet from public and private schools as well as the main campus of a college. If the city decided to enforce the same distance rule for medical marijuana stores, three of 22 confirmed medical marijuana suppliers that have a Grand Junction sales tax license would be within or close to being within those boundaries.

Herbal Paradise at 605 Grand Ave. is within 500 feet of R-5 High School. Sweets, 2010 N. Sixth St., is within 500 feet of Tope Elementary. Highly Herbal, 555 North Ave., is close to the 500-foot perimeter around Grand Junction High School.

Retail liquor stores pay the city of Grand Junction $897.50 and pay the state $1,252.50 in license and application fees before opening. Liquor stores also pay the city $300 in occupational tax and pay the Colorado Bureau of Investigation $38.50 per employee for background checks and $5 for fingerprinting.

In contrast, medical marijuana dispensaries need only apply for a sales tax license to open. That comes with a $10 fee.

Having background checks and fingerprinting for medical marijuana distributors would “make sure people aren’t tied in with organized crime,” Beckstein said.

Council member Gregg Palmer said he initially wanted regulation on when dispensaries could be open and where they could be. Since suggesting that the council’s legislative committee look at regulations, he has come up with more questions and more ideas.

He said he would like to see medical marijuana distributors go through background checks like liquor store applicants, and he would like the issue addressed of how people get doctor approval.

“Having a guy go to see a gynecologist to get a medical marijuana card indicates to me it’s just a rubber-stamp operation,” he said.

That doesn’t mean cards should not be approved, he said.

“I have no doubt there are people that benefit from medical marijuana. Those people that are suffering, far be it from me to tell them they can’t get pain relief,” Palmer said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bruce Hill said he is waiting to hear what happens at the state level before forming opinions.

“I just want to start as soon as they’re done with (the legislation), put our heads together, see what pieces aren’t addressed and address those,” Hill said.

Council member Bill Pitts thinks one regulation is all Grand Junction needs for medical marijuana dispensaries: Ban them.

“I don’t want marijuana at all. That makes it simple,” he said. “I’m opposed to it in any form.”


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