Steamboat dispensary owners not worried after action in California | SteamboatToday.com

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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 jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com