The lawlessness of the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry has prompted some to use the term Wild West to describe it, and, unfortunately, it’s an accurate description.
Colorado voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes back in 2000, but the legislation said little about where the drug should come from, who can grow it or who can sell it.
As the idea of medical marijuana has lurched out of the shadows of taboo during the last few years, an opportunistic clan discovered the law’s omissions and began opening up “dispensaries” — a term that quickly punched its way into our vernacular.
Now, those omissions are blurring the legal lines of marijuana and causing a lot of finger-pointing about whose responsibility it is to regulate the industry.
The confusion become evident soon after the first dispensaries began sprouting up.
Municipalities looked to the state. The state looked to the federal government, but the federal government said nothing — except that pot was still illegal in its book, but that it had no plans to interfere with the industry.
Unsure of exactly how to regulate the business, municipalities waited on direction from the state, which finally issued legislation a few months ago saying, in effect, it was going to leave the issue up to municipalities.
As a result, different laws of all sorts and shapes are taking root along the Front Range.
None so far have been adopted in Colorado Springs yet, and it seems that government officials and residents still have a lot of questions about how to proceed.
The city, state and federal government need to stop dragging their boots and come up with some answers.
Here are a few suggestions.
First and foremost, the federal government needs to break its silence. If marijuana is an illegal substance, it needs to be controlled as are all other illegal drugs, or “controlled substances.” Medical marijuana should be dispensed through a pharmacy, like all other medications.
If the feds continue to do nothing then the city should act — and fast.
The city should create a licensing system that vets those who want to open dispensaries. The licensing system should include criminal background checks and referrals.
Finally, the city needs to adopt some hard and fast zoning and variance laws as soon as possible.
The city should use the same variance standards it uses for liquor store, which must be 500 feet from one other. Additionally, dispensaries should not be allowed within 1,000 feet from schools or churches, the same requirement for sexually oriented business. And, don’t forget about signage restrictions. Neon lights and blaring discount offers don’t look medical to anyone.
And there’s no reason these laws should take months to implement. They could be done in a matter of weeks if city department and officials fast-tracked the matter.
It’s high time someone rode into town to clean up this mess and bring some order to what could become a perfectly legitimate industry.