Steamboat dispensary owners not worried after action in California

Federal action in California doesn’t mean it will happen in Colorado


— Local medical marijuana dispensary owners said they aren’t worried that federal action announced Friday against their California counterparts eventually would lead to similar measures in Colorado.

California’s four U.S. attorneys said they had ordered medical marijuana owners and landlords to shut their doors within 45 days or risk facing criminal charges, according to published reports. The action follows a July announcement that even those in compliance with state medical marijuana laws could face federal prosecution, a reversal of the stance taken by the Obama administration in 2009.

Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher said he wasn’t worried that the California action would take place next in Colorado. He read from a prepared statement from the Denver-based Medical Marijuana Industry Group, of which he is a member.

“President Obama’s stated policy indicates that patients and providers in unambiguous compliance with state medical marijuana laws should not be a target of federal prosecution,” Fisher said. “This coordinated effort of California’s four U.S. attorneys, San Diego and other municipalities is a prime example of why a strong regulatory framework is of critical importance. California’s patchwork quilt of often conflicting ordinances is an invitation for chaos and precipitates federal involvement in what is clearly an issue of state concern.

“Colorado’s comprehensive regulatory scheme, which requires background checks, licensing, seed-to-sale tracking and harsh penalties for noncompliance, serves as a new paradigm for medical cannabis regulation nationwide.”

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver, declined to comment in an email when asked if what took place in California would lead to action in Colorado.

California was the first state to pass a law permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 1996. Colorado voters authorized the use of marijuana for some medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation when they approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2000.

D&C Medical Marijuana & Therapeutic Massage co-owner Daryl Levin said because Colorado’s constitution permits the controversial treatment method, the state was better protected from federal intervention than California.

But that may be moot in Routt County. All county voters will consider a measure in the upcoming election to ban medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county, which would close Aloha’s in Milner. And residents in Steamboat, Oak Creek and Yampa will consider separate questions to ban businesses in those communities.

Dr. Kelly Victory, who helped organize a local group to oppose medical marijuana businesses, wrote in an email that she thought the federal action in California was “entirely predictable.” She said that’s why she and co-organizer Lisa Watts have warned city and county officials that federal authorities would intervene locally if officials here didn’t.

“I would have far preferred to see local governments do the right thing in the first place,” Victory said. “Now our community has been placed squarely in the sites of the federal government, and I don’t think that’s best for anyone. Hopefully, the voters will pass the ban in November and we can be credited with having cleaned up our own backyard.”

Steamboat City Council President Cari Hermacinski said she doesn’t share Victory’s concerns. Hermacinski said while there’s a conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws, it’s an issue for the Colorado Attorney General to resolve.

“I think that’s clearly something that will get resolved at a level higher than us, as long as we don’t exceed the scope of what’s been approved,” she said.

The City Council approved an ordinance in January 2010 to regulate the city’s three dispensaries that imposed limitations on things such as location, operating hours and signage. It was updated this year.

And the state approved more far-reaching legislation in 2010 to regulate the business and medical sides of the industry. That legislation also was updated this year.

But there’s a perception that state and local authorities have done nothing to regulate the industry.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Capt. Joel Rae said this week that undercover officers tried to get medical marijuana from the city’s three dispensaries without a card that would permit them to do so.

“They all passed successfully at that time,” he said.

Julie Postlethwait, a spokeswoman for the state’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, part of the Colorado Department of Revenue, said investigators performed unannounced compliance checks Sept. 26 and 27 at the local dispensaries and all passed routine inspections.

Aloha’s owner Chris Ward said if dispensaries are shut down, the state’s going to have a new problem on its hand with potentially thousands of grow operations cropping up to meet the need of the state’s nearly 128,000 cardholding medical marijuana patients. But he said if he’s told to shut down, by voters or the federal government, that’s what he’ll do.

“As a small vendor and a small operator, we want to comply,” he said. “Comply, comply, comply. Always. I’ve always said, ‘Once we’re out, we’re out.’ We’re not going to stay there illegally. If we’re not in compliance with the law, we’ll close down.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email


Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

Colorado's does not merely have a comprehensive regulatory scheme, but the Colorado's law is written to address the issues that the US Supreme Court cited when ruling that medical marijuana in California is a federal crime (Raich vs Gonzales).

So while California dispensaries do not have much of a legal basis to fight in court, the Colorado dispensaries would be expected to put up a court fight that they could win.

Also, apparently California has experienced these sort of threats before and nothing else happened. This has not been a winning strategy for California's US Attorneys. They end up with cities passing mmj sanctuary laws stating that local police will not assist the feds. Or in the celebrated case of Oakland's mmj grower, he was sentenced to one day, time served.


the_Lizard 5 years, 6 months ago

I don't follow this issue very closely, and quite frankly don't care if the mmj measure passes or not. The important thing is that local voters are exercising their right to determine what is right for their communities as they are supposed to be able to do under the 10th. So I hope you're correct in your analysis.


Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago,0,5209592.story

California's four U.S. attorneys said Friday that they are taking aim at large-scale growers and dispensary owners who are raking in millions of dollars while falsely claiming that their medical marijuana operations comply with state law, which does not allow for-profit sales.

Note the key difference between California and Colorado. The dispensaries are not operating within California law while Colorado dispensaries are complying with Colorado law. If the feds were to make a similar move in Colorado then the Colorado AG should defend those following state law and oppose the feds in court.

So what California needs to do is pass state laws like Colorado has.


Kristopher Hammond 5 years, 6 months ago

More significantly, the police are admitting that they tried, but couldn't buy from any of the dispensaries without a card. That's a better record than local liquor stores! The State CDPHE regulators didn't find anything amiss either.

If there has ever been even one instance of the dispensaries breaking any law or regulation, the top cops would have been crowing it from the rooftops.

Empty handed, the top cops are now abandoning their law enforcement duties for politics. This is just a campaign for cop job security: "If they aren't breaking any existing laws, then there aren't enough laws". Stick to law enforcement, boys. You make lousy politicians.


Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

Well, I am still waiting for any of the SB city council candidates to state their position on the city's mmj dispensaries.


rhys jones 5 years, 6 months ago

Rich Levy told me the other night at IgniteSteamboat he was against the ban, but I couldn't find him at break time to discuss it in further detail. ;-)


rhys jones 5 years, 6 months ago

We ARE the People, and we are speaking up here. Presumably being heard. Our opposition consists of arms of the government and big pharmaceuticals. If we are the vocal minority, as our antagonists allege, where is the cadre of citizen support? And I don't mean the same old birds, reborn.

THIS is where the tide swell is, and any candidate speaking out against dispensaries is committing political suicide; yet to overtly support them rubs others wrong. Tough times, in politics.


John Fielding 5 years, 6 months ago

I have stated my position on dispensaries several times in this forum.

It is certainly possible and even reasonable to be in favor of dispensaries while against the use of marijuana but not trying to force others to conform to your own beliefs.

I wish every local pot smoker would go get a perscription to legalize their use and rid this city of that criminal element that currently supplies them.

I wish that every doctor who perscribes marijuana would give a real advisory about the tendency to habitual use and lack of interest in more productive activity brought on by the easy way to feel so good by just getting high.



Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

John, Yes, to your credit, you have stated your positions on this and other issues.

I suspect that everyone willing to go get a doctor recommendation knows a whole lot about using mmj so the doctor giving an advisory would be redundant.

Just as a bartender talking about the harms of alcohol is redundant since usually won't take many trips to the bar to see those that it is killing.

I'd be stunned if any high school senior in SB would not be able to describe harms of using alcohol or mmj based upon either personal experience or that of classmates.


rhys jones 5 years, 6 months ago

I respect John for voicing his piece. Finally we have a contributor who is a non-user, and is NOT a paid advocate. And he SUPPORTS the dispensaries, preferring to legitimize and regulate as opposed to returning the business to the criminal element.

I use pot to ASSIST is creative endeavors, channel the energy. Sort of like the Cowardly Lion's degree, without, I'm counting on my fingers and toes. I'm so stupid, pot actually HELPS. One day I hope to be as smart as y'all.


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