County enacts five-month moratorium on pot dispensaries

Posted 1/13/10

Unincorporated Arapahoe County has eight known medical-marijuana businesses in operation, and the local industry is unlikely to grow any larger until …

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County enacts five-month moratorium on pot dispensaries


Unincorporated Arapahoe County has eight known medical-marijuana businesses in operation, and the local industry is unlikely to grow any larger until at least June 14.

On Jan. 12, the county’s board of commissioners voted 4-1 to impose a five-month moratorium on new dispensaries and growing operations in unincorporated areas. The decision comes on the heels of last month’s move to enact a four-week moratorium.

The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Jim Dyer, a Centennial Republican whose proposal for a 12-month moratorium was rejected by other board members on the advice of the county attorney.

In recent weeks, Dyer has indicated his desire to keep dispensaries out of the county entirely. That may not be possible in light of legal precedent and the accepted legal uses of moratoriums on business types.

The City of Centennial was recently sued by CannaMart, a dispensary that the city had forced to close on the grounds that any marijuana use violates federal law.

Last month, a district judge granted CannaMart’s request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that local governments cannot enforce federal law or use it as a pretext for denying a right guaranteed in a state constitution.

Although in 2000, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment permitting medicinal use of marijuana, its use for any purpose remains illegal under federal law. The U.S. Justice Department has called prosecution of such patients a low priority.

Moratoriums on dispensaries have generally been designed to give local governments enough time to consider the “secondary effects” of the quickly proliferating businesses and regulate them accordingly.

County Attorney Kathryn Schroeder indicated that a yearlong prohibition on such operations, as promoted by Dyer, could make the county vulnerable to lawsuits.

“Moratoriums are only allowed so you can deal with issues that have arisen that you haven’t had time to deal with,” Schroeder advised. “You’re not allowed to use a moratorium as an effective ban on a use.”

The five-month moratorium — similar to those recently passed in surrounding cities — had come at the urging of Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, who called medical marijuana a “self-regulated” industry prone to fraud and abuse.

“I support the moratorium until the state legislators can sit down, review this matter, and come back at us with some semblance of regulation,” he said. “… Right now, state law enforcement, and this sheriff’s office particularly, has no idea what the regulations are.”

Robinson, the chief law enforcement provider in the county, added that he has no objection to a limited number of legitimate patients in the county using marijuana.

“Very frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I support that,” the sheriff said. “However, I do not believe that there are 17,500 people in our state that are currently suffering from debilitating injuries or illnesses that would cause medical marijuana to be a benefit.”

After Robinson finished, Dyer chastised his fellow officials for rejecting his request for a longer moratorium and reprised his objections in principle to all medical-marijuana dispensaries.

“The federal government has cravenly refused to enforce the law. It’s not up to local governments to try to overturn that by regulating something that’s fundamentally on a federal basis illegal to do,” he said.

Commissioners may eventually meet Dyer’s demands for a longer hold-off on dispensaries if a clear regulatory framework has not been established at the federal, state or county level by June 14.

“In four months, we can easily come back and extend the moratorium and I think we will extend it,” said Commissioner Susan Beckman, a Littleton Republican.

The recently convened state Legislature is expected to take up the issue of dispensaries in coming months. Meanwhile, some city council and other county boards have already passed their own ordinances regulating dispensaries.


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