Town wants rules for sale of medical marijuana

47 people in valley currently eligible

Crested Butte could soon join other communities like Aspen, Grand Junction and Carbondale and allow medical marijuana to be sold in town.



Without setting a finite deadline to come up with guidelines governing potential medical marijuana dispensaries in town, the Crested Butte Town Council instructed its staff to begin working on regulations to govern such operations. The council gave the go-ahead Monday night at its regular meeting.
The town has received two inquiries from people interested in opening a dispensary in town. The town staff felt that current land use codes do not clearly provide for the establishment of such dispensaries.
Building Department administrator Phillip Supino drafted a memo on the topic that outlined three potential actions by the council. They could process the applications under current town regulations, come up with regulations and conditions under which such dispensaries could operate, or prohibit the dispensaries all together.
Chief Marshal Tom Martin suggested and recommended a fourth option: to put a moratorium on the applications in order to conduct more research and come up with a plan.
“I don’t want an outright ban but I would like more time to look at the situation,” Martin told the council. “While the state law allows for medical marijuana, it is against federal law to dispense marijuana. We can’t really issue a business license for a business conducting unlawful activity. It is a murky situation and a hot topic.”
Town Attorney John Belkin said decisions by communities in Colorado over the matter run the gamut. “Gunnison has a moratorium. Other communities issue business licenses and tax it,” he said. “The law on this matter will probably develop over a relatively long period of time.”
Councilperson Reed Betz was ready to move forward. “We can gear up and come up with appropriate regulations without a moratorium,” he said. “I don’t see the need for a moratorium.”
Councilmember Margot Levy said she was not in favor of imposing any punitive fees on such establishments.
“It is medical marijuana and it is helping with the health needs of people. I’m not in favor of putting more burdens on the backs of health patients,” she said.
Councilmember Billy Rankin said he was amazed after a recent visit to California. “It is super-mainstream in California right now,” he pointed out.
Supino said that California had created mechanisms in state law for distribution, while Colorado did not provide any such framework.
Councilmember Leah Williams said that as a home-rule municipality, “It’s within our ability to regulate this however we choose.”
Martin said there was concern over allowing a dispensary and seeing abuse. “Right now there are about 50 people in the county with medical marijuana cards,” he said. “There are about 9,000 in the state. I’ve read about a doctor who allowed 200 people in a day to get the cards. I think there is some abuse in the system and a concern that the number of card holders could sky rocket.”
Resident Erika Vohman spoke in favor of allowing the dispensaries. “This type of distribution could add another leg to this economy. The town can tax the patients. People can grow the plants to sell to the dispensaries. It is a way for people to make money in hard times,” she said.
Jami Miller and her husband opened a dispensary in Aspen a month ago. They applied for a dispensary permit with Crested Butte on Monday. She told the council that people living in the community drive from Crested Butte to her wellness clinic. “We have a wellness center in Aspen and we insist on patient confidentiality. It is discreet. It is not on the main street. We have naturopaths and acupuncturists and massage therapists at the clinic as well,” she explained. “We try to take a holistic view with our patients.”
Miller said there has not been a single altercation between her center and law enforcement. “We want to be an example of how it can work,” she said. She also said the center picks up the town sales tax for primary patients living in the community.
Stephen Hattendorf of Gunnison and his business partner inquired last month about a Crested Butte business license for a dispensary. He told the council that Colorado’s medical marijuana law was voted into the state constitution and that makes it more solid than laws in places like California.
“It’s interesting to see that we have more dispensaries than patients asking for the legislation,” said area resident Corey Bryndal. “I don’t see an uproar of patients asking for this. There’s an uproar of dispensaries.”
Area resident Oliver Jeffery said making people drive to Aspen or Grand Junction for medicine was pretty rough. “That’s a long way to go to get medicine,” he said. “Normally you just go to the pharmacy.”
Mayor Alan Bernholtz said he’s seen three pharmacies come and go in Crested Butte since he moved here. “I agree with Tommy that there is the chance for abuse,” he said, “but I don’t think having a dispensary is a bad thing if we can regulate them in the proper way. It seems like a risky business but it’s not our job to try to analyze business plans. If having a wellness center in town can help some people, then I’m okay with it. I’d be willing to go forward if we draw up some regulations.”
Councilmember Skip Berkshire was on a similar page. “It’s such a tragedy that something that has such good intentions and has been proven to help some people has been crafted so poorly that it opens the door for such abuse,” he said. “Frankly, we need to either get on with legalizing it and treat it like alcohol or make it illegal. It’s dysfunctional the way it is set up.”
Levy wanted to move forward as well. “I don’t see any reason not to move forward with this,” she said.
Rankin wanted to move ahead but asked the town staff to look into taxes and fees to raise additional town revenue.
The staff was instructed to move ahead but no timeline was given the staff.
Town Manager Susan Parker told the council it would take 30 days to six months for the staff to compile regulations and put them in ordinance form. “It depends on the council. We can move it if you want,” she said.
The town will move forward but at an unknown pace for the moment.

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