The commissioners would be better off tabling any notion of a ban and instead thinking harder about how best to regulate these businesses.
Coloradans approved Amendment 20 legalizing medical marijuana a decade ago, and even in the conservative stronghold of El Paso County, a majority voted in favor of the measure. In other words, putting the issue on the ballot seems pretty redundant.
Attitudes on medical marijuana have become even more relaxed since that vote.
Consider the news last week from the department of Veterans Affairs, which announced that patients treated at VA hospitals and clinics will be able to use medical marijuana in the 14 states where it’s legal.
The new approach doesn’t mean VA doctors will begin to prescribe medical marijuana, which is still considered illegal under federal law. But it does mean vets who need other pain-management drugs won’t have to worry about being cut off by the VA if they also use medical marijuana.
“For years, there have been veterans coming back from the Iraq war who needed medical marijuana and had to decide whether they were willing to cut down on their VA medications,” said John Targowski, a legal adviser to the group Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, which worked with the VA on the issue.
Targowski said confusion on the matter might have led some veterans to distrust their doctors or avoid the VA system.
The VA’s new thinking on this is logical, not to mention considerably more compassionate.
Meanwhile, some cities in Colorado — Superior and Vail, among them — have decided to impose dispensary bans or are preparing to.
Areas that have imposed similar moratoriums have seen their efforts backfire.
For example, Aurora’s ban, imposed in December, merely shifted dispensaries from business zones into residential areas. The number of home-grow operations in Aurora has increased by 217 percent in the past six months, officials say. The police chief of Aurora, Dan Oates, says his narcotics unit is devoting 40 percent of its time to identifying home growers and determining whether they are legitimate.
Often, Oates said, police also find weapons such as handguns at many of these locations, weapons mainly used to protect growers from potential thieves.
And the Aurora Sentinel reported last week that the city’s building inspectors, who now accompany police officials in their investigations of home growers, are finding electrical code violations of all sorts.
In one case, “it wasn’t a matter of if the house was going to burn down, it was a matter of when,” said Scott Berg, the city’s chief building official. “None of this is legal or even close to being legal.”
It’s safe to assume that if El Paso County outlaws dispensaries, medical marijuana users would, naturally, turn to home-based caregivers, who can provide marijuana for up to five registered users.
El Paso can then expect to experience what Aurora is now suffering.
Colorado Springs, on the other hand, appears less likely to impose a ban and, instead, is developing tighter guidelines for dispensaries that operate within the city limits.
Cities that have taken a similar approach have imposed licensing fees, required background checks on dispensary owners and employees, prohibited anyone convicted of a felony within five years from ownership, and barred locations within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center or other dispensary.
We should soon know just what the City Council plans to do to regulate dispensaries.
And we should soon know how the El Paso County Commission plans to proceed.
Three of the five commissioners were leaning to putting the issue on the November ballot.
“My preference is a vote of the people,” Commission Chair Dennis Hisey said.
That sounds good but the people have already voted.
The county should regulate and monitor dispensaries closely, and leave bans to activities that the people have decided are truly illegal.
Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-329-5206.