Some dispensary owners worry about impact of pot legalization
September 22, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Some local medical marijuana dispensary owners are concerned that legalizing marijuana in Colorado actually could jeopardize their ability to supply pot to patients.
Colorado residents will vote Nov. 6 on Amendment 64. If approved, it would legalize the recreational use of marijuana and allow those 21 and older to carry as much as an ounce. While Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher thinks adults should be allowed to smoke marijuana recreationally, he is concerned that the successful passage of the amendment to the Colorado Constitution could invite federal law enforcement officers to come to Colorado and shut down dispensaries.
"I think we would see feds in Steamboat Springs if they did change the law," said Fisher, co-owner of Steamboat's largest dispensary.
Fisher said President Barack Obama's administration has made clear that it would not allow the retail sale of marijuana for recreational use, but he thinks that could change after the election. If the administration’s position doesn’t change, Fisher thinks legalizing recreational use would "imperil patient access to medical marijuana."
"Potentially all medical marijuana facilities would be shut down because it would arouse so much attention," said Ryan Fisher, Kevin Fisher's business partner.
Steamboat D&C dispensary partner Josh Scruggs thinks the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado is not necessary.
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"It needs to be decriminalized on a federal level before they open the gate," Scruggs said.
Along with the Colorado's Medical Marijuana Industry Group, the Cannabis Business Alliance in Denver has not taken an official position on the amendment.
"Because we are specifically a medical marijuana trade association, we felt it was very important to hold to that mission in serving medical marijuana patients," said Kristen Thomson, interim executive director with the Cannabis Business Alliance. "Should the amendment pass, we would have to take a look at the mission of the organization."
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has come out against Amendment 64 saying, "Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them."
Currently, Colorado's registered voters appear to be in favor of Amendment 64. According to the results of a Denver Post poll released Sept. 15, the amendment has the support of 51 percent of likely voters surveyed compared with 40 percent opposed. The Post pointed out that could shift as Election Day approaches. Such was the case during California's vote in 2010, when the initiative polled well but ended up being defeated.
"It's going to be a squeaker, I think," Kevin Fisher said.
Colorado's last statewide measure to legalize marijuana failed in 2006, with 59 percent of voters rejecting it.
Fisher said that if the federal stance on marijuana changes, he would apply for a license to sell marijuana for recreational use. If the amendment passes and the federal stance is unchanged, he hopes communities will enact moratoriums on retail marijuana shops for the short term to protect medicinal patients.
If approved, the constitutional amendment would go into effect once the vote is made official by the governor.
Although personal consumption and possession would be allowed, recreational users wouldn’t immediately be able to go out and buy at dispensaries like Rocky Mountain Remedies, where Fisher said the median age of patients is 47 years old. Recreational users would have to buy the marijuana from a retail shop, which likely would not exist for at least a year. The state would have until Jan. 1, 2014, to start issuing licenses to businesses wanting to sell marijuana for recreational use.
Key points from Amendment 64:
• Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal.
• People would need to be at least 21 years old to purchase or possess marijuana.
• People would be allowed to possess as much as 1 ounce of marijuana.
• Marijuana would be labeled and subject to additional regulations from the state to ensure that consumers are "informed and protected."
• Consumption of marijuana in public would not be allowed.
• People would be allowed to grow as many as six plants, three of which could be mature plants. but would not be allowed to sell marijuana without a license.
• People 21 or older would not be allowed help people younger than 21 get marijuana.
• The state would regulate, among other things, security at shops and labeling and could impose restrictions on advertising.
• Marijuana sales could be taxed by as much as 15 percent by the state. The first $40 million raised annually would go toward building schools.
• Local governments would be able to ban retail stores and limit the number of retail stores.
• Employers still would be able to enforce policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com