Targeting dispensaries

Pot rules spark fierce debate

David Accomazzo | Boulder Weekly


Local and state officials are crafting new legislation aimed at the medical marijuana industry, and regulation efforts are close to passing at both levels.


The Boulder City Council approved a set of regulations including requiring a $5,000 up-front licensing fee with a $2,000 renewal fee, barring dispensaries from opening within 500 feet of a school, making owners go through a background check and requiring the purchase of renewable energy credits if they are growing marijuana on-site. Though council members approved the measure, they plan to discuss the rules again at a later date.

Two bills are finishing the bloody march through the state legislature and are close to becoming law. One bill, SB 109, would regulate the doctors who recommend marijuana to patients and has breezed through the legislature virtually unopposed. The bill has passed the House and the Senate, and at press time, the two chambers were hashing out the differences in committee.

The second bill, HB 1284, would give the state power to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have thrown a dizzying array of amendments towards the bill at all stops, swelling the bill from a husky 45 pages to an obese 72. As of press time, the bill was scheduled for a second reading on the Senate floor. The bill would create a state agency to license and oversee dispensaries and require that all dispensaries purchase a license to do business in the state. It would also ban anyone under the age of 21 from working at a dispensary and establish a list of requirements for anyone wishing to own one — new owners, for example, would have to have Colorado residency for two years as well as pass a federal and state background check.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, voted against HB 1284.

“I didn’t really see the rush,” Levy says. “The local governments were dealing with the issue themselves. … I didn’t think we needed this elaborate twotiered system.”

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, who sponsors both bills, said that he expects HB 1284 to force about 50 percent of dispensaries to close. The real number, says Laura Criho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute, is higher.

“Once we actually saw the bill and read it, we realized it would be targeting more like 80 percent of the dispensaries of the state. And once Romer mentioned the licensing fees, we upped that number to 95 percent,” she says.

Romer did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him about the bill over the past two weeks.

Another part of the bill would require dispensaries to grow 70 percent of their marijuana, either on site or in a separate building. Amendment 20 allows one patient or his or her caregiver to grow six plants at a time and possess up to two ounces of usable marijuana. Most dispensary owners are caregivers for dozens or even hundreds of patients, and if they were forced to grow enough marijuana to supply 70 percent of their patients, the number of plants could grow quite high. Kathleen Chippi, owner of Nederland dispensary One Brown Mouse, says she serves 1,500 patients and thinks that requirement will expose her to federal raids, which tend to target grows with more than 100 plants.

“They’re forcing us to have enough plants to supply 1,500 patients,” Chippi says. “I’m frightened of the fact that I’m going to be forced to grow. I personally have less than 99 plants. I’m not going to go above 99 plants, because the federal government is going to come bust me. … They’re setting us all up to be out of federal compliance.”

Included in HB 1284 is a licensing fee for opening a dispensary. The proposed cost has fluctuated but has settled on $35,000 for a new dispensary. Add that to the proposed $5,000 fee required by the city, and many dispensaries fear they might be priced out of the industry.

Pierre Werner, owner of the dispensary on the Hill, says the impending bill is forcing him to put his business up for sale. He has a felony drug conviction on his record, and he would not be able to pass the staterequired background check. Plus, he wouldn’t have the cash to pay both the state and the city fees.

“It’s their fees that are outrageous that bother me,” Werner says. “It’s going to put my employees out of a job.”

Hilliary Grace, 19, who works at Werner’s dispensary, wouldn’t be
able to work at the dispensary even if intended to stay
open. HB 1284 would ban people under 21 from working at dispensaries.

putting myself through school, I’m doing everything by myself, and this
is my job. I’m also medicated with my card, so it’s going to be a
double whammy,” Grace says. “I’m not going to be able to walk into this
dispensary and get medicated anymore.”