City OKs medical marijuana dispensary regulations amid ongoing debate | SteamboatToday.com

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City OKs medical marijuana dispensary regulations amid ongoing debate

— City officials adopted regulations Tuesday for medical marijuana dispensaries in Steamboat Springs, setting new policies that could do more to spur local debate than stop it.

The Steamboat Springs City Council adopted the city's first medical marijuana regulations on a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Kenny Reisman opposing. Reisman's objection stemmed from the same issue raised by two members of the public and local lawyer Jennifer Robbins: the fact that the regulations allow only three dispensaries in city limits, one of which must operate as a co-op. Robbins noted that when the City Council enacted a moratorium on dispensaries in August, two for-profit dispensaries already had opened their doors. Because the new regulations allow only two for-profit dispensaries, Robbins said, "there was never a chance for anyone else to get in … which is a closed market."

Robbins said she is representing several residents concerned about the issue, including medical marijuana patients, a client interested in opening a dispensary and others. She said the limited number of dispensaries "will limit the patients' options in choosing their caregivers" and could lead to price-fixing or a monopoly situation.

Reisman said he would have preferred to leave the number of dispensaries open, with costlier application fees — in the range of $5,000 to $10,000, he said. The approved ordinance requires a $400 application fee and an annual renewal fee of $100.

Daryl Levin, who co-owns D and C Medical Marijuana and Therapeutic Massage with Charles Magnuson, spoke in favor of the limit.

"We don't need (more dispensaries) right now," he said.

Magnuson said the notion that dispensaries are lucrative is incorrect, at least in Steamboat.

"We're working for no pay, and we aren't making any money," he said. "There just aren't enough people with (medical marijuana) licenses."

Robbins suggested allowing more dispensaries by using a review process similar to the process for liquor license applications. The City Council acts as the city's Liquor License Authority to review each new liquor license application.

Councilman Walter Magill noted that allowing a higher number of dispensaries, such as five, might seem like a lot, "but we sure have a lot of liquor stores."

City records clerk Sabrina James said last month that there were 87 active liquor licenses in Steamboat.

Councilman Jon Quinn said revisions to the ordinance largely addressed his previous concerns about security regulations, specifically whether law enforcement should be allowed access to video surveillance at dispensaries. Quinn said that raised patient privacy issues.

The approved ordinance says dispensary owners may, but are not required to, provide video footage to law enforcement and can edit that footage to protect patient privacy.

As part of the adoption vote, the City Council agreed to re­­view the regulations in one year.

Also Tuesday, the City Council denied zoning changes for a 2-acre parcel at Storm Meadows Drive and Burgess Creek Road in a 3-3 vote, where a tie meant denial. Magill and council members Jim Engelken and Meg Bentley voted against the changes, which would have allowed increased density on the site near open space and residential neighborhoods. Reisman, who owns a residence nearby, stepped down from the vote.

The "no" vote was a change for Magill, who voted in favor of the zoning changes — with reservations — in November and again last month, when the City Council gave the changes initial approval.

The denial on final reading clearly frustrated the development team and consultants.

"How can we come through as developers and know what to do?" asked Jeremy MacGray, of JSM Builders Inc.

Council President Cari Hermacinski voted for the zoning changes throughout the process.

"I think this sets terrible precedent for any developer trying to work in our community," Hermacinski said about Tuesday's reversal.

The City Council also unanimously approved the election plan for the mail-only vote on the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation and an agreement with Routt County to provide vote-tallying services. Ballots will be mailed between Feb. 15 and Feb. 19, and the vote concludes March 9.