Pot shop owners far from mellow about closing their doors

From behind the counter of his business, Dusty Higgins, owner of Nature’s Medicine Wellness Center, encourages his clients to speak up against the Grand Junction City Council’s proposed ban of marijuana dispensaries.

After dumping about $20,000 into his medical marijuana dispensary to comply with recent state regulations, Robert Ingalsbe was devastated Thursday to learn that the Grand Junction City Council planned to close his shop.

During a workshop Wednesday night, City Council members voiced their intent to shutter the city’s estimated 14 pot shops, a decision that heads to a formal vote later this month. The timing couldn’t have been worse for dispensary owners who recently invested large sums with the state for licenses and to adhere to new regulations.

“It’s going to affect a lot of people,” said Ingalsbe, who with two other people owns Greenlight LLC, 216 North Ave., No. 11. “If (medical marijuana) patients are not going to get it through dispensaries, they’re going to get it illegally through drug dealers.”

Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver said he believes the city has solid legal footing to fend off lawsuits if city officials ban the shops. In early June, Gov. Bill Ritter signed two bills into law, House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109, which impose more licensing for medical marijuana dispensaries and allow cities the option to outlaw pot shops.

The new laws also require dispensaries to grow 70 percent of their own product, meaning many shops had to invest in equipment for growing.

Dusty Higgins, owner of Nature’s Medicine, 2755 North Ave., said he and other dispensary owners were seeking attorneys Thursday to take on a lawsuit over what appears to be an imminent ban on the city’s pot shops.

Higgins said he sees the city’s intentions as a violation of constitutional rights, because voters in 2000 passed Amendment 20, which allows licensed people the right to use medical marijuana to treat a number of ailments.

“You cannot limit the patients’ access,” he said. “I don’t know that many caregivers who are willing to take on those patients. Who is the City Council to say who’s sick and who’s not sick?”

Higgins said he employs up to 20 people who will be without work if his shop is closed. Building owners, meanwhile, will lose out on the rent money he pays to lease space for his shop and an off-site growing operation, he said.

Higgins added he was in the process of creating a commercial kitchen to produce edible marijuana products.

Outlawing shops will push medical marijuana growing operations into residential neighborhoods, where they’ll be more likely to come in contact with children and others who would rather not have them nearby, he said.

“What am I supposed to do with all this product?” Higgins asked. “We were hoping that (City Council members) would do rules and regulations and tell us what they wanted to see. I’ve sunk my life into this. Once you get drawn into this, it’s addictive because you want to help people.”

Voters will get to decide in November whether the shops should be allowed within unincorporated parts of Mesa County. No cannabis shops operate in Fruita, but city leaders there instated their own regulations and taxes. Palisade town leaders have approved one combination dispensary and medical-marijuana-growing operation. The business was granted a license to operate a dispensary before city leaders imposed a yearlong moratorium November 2009 on any other dispensaries opening in city limits.

If voters decide to outlaw dispensaries in Mesa County, the Palisade dispensary, Colorado Alternative Health Care, 125 Peach Ave., may be the only such store in the Grand Valley, at least for some time.

There is an essential ban on new dispensaries being created statewide until July 1, 2011, as a deadline has passed for all current dispensaries to submit paperwork to the state to continue operations.

Grand Junction City Council member Bruce Hill said he believes that as he and other City Council members plan to vote to ban the shops, medical marijuana patients will still get the products as Amendment 20 intended.

Patients are allowed to either grow six plants or designate a caregiver that can grow up to six plants for them.

“I’m not going to be threatened that we’re going to be challenged,” Hill said, when asked about potential lawsuits. “That doesn’t bother me. The access to medical marijuana is still available.”


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