‘Ganja Gourmet,’ other dispensaries remain in a regulatory netherworld

How many of you have heard of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America? Well, it’s based in Colorado and, if you had been watching Saturday Night Live in February, you would’ve heard the program lampooned as “some guy in Colorado selling weed out of a trailer.”

Now that’s not what the organization precisely does, since it doesn’t distribute marijuana. But it’s an example of the attitude that people promoting medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado have to overcome in general, and specifically in the city of Grand Junction, which is holding a vote April 5 on whether to ban the dispensaries within the city limits.

The aforementioned marijuana assistance program is odd enough without the comedic spin, as it uses converted recreational vehicles to access rural areas of the state, bringing doctors to assist residents in obtaining medical marijuana cards. I’m speculating that in some of these areas, having access to a physician for more mundane medical needs can be a difficult endeavor. But with medical marijuana, they come to you.

The vote here in Grand Junction is emblematic of what’s going on around the state since the Colorado Supreme Court turned away challenges to last year’s legislation that allows enough elbow room for cities or counties to prohibit commercial dispensaries.

Part of the problem for both proponents and opponents of dispensaries is the fuzzy nature of the amendment, which neither provides for nor prohibits commercial dispensaries. This lack of definition seems to have let the genie out of the bottle for marijuana dispensaries to proliferate, advertise and represent themselves, often in ways counterproductive to efforts of those wise enough to realize such exercises would lead to an inevitable backlash.

This backlash certainly comes from some portion of voters who supported allowing medical treatment with marijuana, but probably imagined it somehow coming from behind a pharmacy counter and not from a jar labeled “purple haze” at a strip-mall storefront.

Other states have been fascinated with Colorado’s experiment; Rhode Island is in the process of allowing for marijuana use in a medical setting and licensing dispensaries.

According to a recent article in the Providence Journal, the state plans on having three. Although Rhode Island’s population is about 20 percent of Colorado’s, the Journal points out that the city of Denver has 251 dispensaries with about 700 more scattered throughout the state.

A video embedded with the Journal’s online story is titled, “Medical Marijuana in Colorado: Weed Wonderland of the World.”  The video features a middle-aged man wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt discussing his business, the Ganja Gourmet, which at one point featured a “Bud Bar” and served marijuana infused dishes with names such as “Panama Red Pizza” and “Pot-Pot Pie.”

The video notes that last year, Colorado banned ingesting or eating marijuana products on dispensary property, so business at the Ganja Gourmet has eroded.

Supporters of the dispensaries have a strong position, however, when they point out that the state has been quick to license and tax the dispensaries. The Journal’s article points out that last July it cost $7,500 to $18,000 to open up a dispensary, based on the number of patients, with a separate fee for selling marijuana-infused foods.

Colorado has reportedly collected $10.4 million in total revenue from the centers, which is interesting since the state has only recently started assigning regulation personnel and resources to monitor product safety for what it’s taxing as some sort of medical product.

How the vote in Grand Junction will turn out, I honestly do not know, but both sides have made eloquent and persuasive presentations. However, the state and municipalities have mostly not given significant guidance on how and where the voter-approved medical substance is supposed to be obtained. This places both sides of the dispensary question at a disadvantage.

Proponents of the dispensaries who argue for their existence with reasonable regulation are tasked with overcoming unhelpful impressions about their industry, and the Legislature is behind the curve on providing a framework for discussion. Opponents can’t be sure what will happen if they lower their resistance.

The state has been quick to tax but slow to lead. It’s ironic that in an age of government overregulation, one segment, where many actually want rules to point to, has very few.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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