Editorial Board, June 2009 to September 2009
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Grant Fenton, community representative
- Paul Strong, community representative
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Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs City Council took appropriate action Tuesday night by approving an emergency moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries until an ordinance providing parameters for such facilities is drafted and adopted.
The 90-day moratorium has no effect on two dispensaries that opened within the past couple of days. The moratorium will, however, temporarily block the opening of several other Steamboat dispensaries that City Manager Jon Roberts said are in the works.
The city has no intention of preventing medical marijuana dispensaries - stores where licensed patients can purchase marijuana - from operating in Steamboat Springs, nor should it. Amendment 20, passed by Colorado voters in 2000 - and overwhelmingly approved by Routt County voters - allows approved patients with certain debilitating conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Those conditions and diseases include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms. Patients who have been enrolled on the state's medical marijuana user registry can possess as much as 2 ounces of marijuana at a time, and they can grow as many as six plants, with only three of them being at maturity at any given time. Patients are granted a medical marijuana license after receiving a recommendation from their physician and completing the state application, which includes a $90 processing fee.
But the law is vague in many areas, including dispensaries. And that's where local ordinances can and should play a role. Fortunately, Steamboat officials aren't alone in their quest to provide reasonable, measured restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Silverthorne, Frisco and Breckenridge each have enacted 90-day moratoriums on processing business applications for marijuana dispensaries. Roberts said the city plans to use ordinances crafted by other municipalities as blueprints for Steamboat's dispensary rules.
As previously expressed by Steamboat Springs Director of Public Safety JD Hays, any potential ordinance likely would govern a dispensary's business hours, security features, location and proximity to schools. City Planning and Community Development Director Tom Leeson has said a dispensary classifies as a medical office under existing city ordinance. Therefore, after obtaining a sales tax license, a sign permit and a building permit for a tenant finish, a dispensary could open anywhere in the city a medical office is allowed.
We're more concerned about security and hours of operation. We expect that local law enforcement agencies will keep an eye on any dispensaries, and we expect dispensary owners and employees to sell medical marijuana only to licensed patients. If that's the case, there should be less of a concern about where a dispensary is located than with its security features. A Boulder dispensary, for example, had two, 20-gallon barrels of marijuana stolen from it in June.
Of course, it's hard to determine what the actual demand for local dispensaries will be. Dispensaries themselves are not accounted for in state law, but rather arose out of the law's "caregiver" provision. Patients who don't want to grow their own marijuana can establish a single caregiver and give that person their grow rights. The same person can be a caregiver to an unlimited number of patients, meaning he or she can acquire more and more grow rights. Dispensaries arose when it became more practical to open a storefront than to make individual deliveries, said Brian Vicente, a Colorado attorney and executive director of medical marijuana advocates Sensible Colorado.
There are 34 registered medical marijuana patients in Routt County, making up about three-tenths of 1 percent of the state's approximately 9,000 registered patients. But as the state roll swells, so could the local number. There's been a significant increase in the number of licensed patients in the past two years, particularly men younger than 30 who sought medical marijuana to treat "chronic pain." We share the concerns of some state medical officials that the law, as currently written, remains prone to abuse.
But we also respect the will of Coloradans and the potential benefits of medical marijuana for those patients who qualify to use it for legitimate purposes. For that reason, the city is taking the right approach by not attempting to block the opening of local dispensaries but rather making sure any future dispensaries are operated in a way that is safe and respectful of the entire community.