Quoted from Coloradoan: Petition seeks election on medical marijuana centers
Author: Kevin Duggan
A petition drive aimed at asking Fort Collins voters whether medical marijuana businesses should be allowed in the city has yet to hit the halfway point of its goal for signatures, supporters say.
Petition passers have until July 19 to turn in the signatures of 4,214 registered Fort Collins voters to the City Clerk's Office to advance a proposed ordinance that would ban marijuana businesses, including dispensaries and grow operations, from the city.
If enough signatures are collected, the City Council could enact the ordinance as written or refer it to voters. Supporters of the ban are requesting a special election in November.
Supporters hope to collect at least 6,500 signatures by the deadline because the clerk's office is likely to find many signatures are not valid, said Bob Powell, chairman of the group Concerned Fort Collins Citizens.
Progress on the drive has been slow, with volunteer petitioners running into "a fair amount of apathy," he said. But proponents of the ban believe the presence of medical marijuana businesses in the city is an issue voters should be able to decide.
"We recognize that there are legitimate medicinal uses for marijuana," Powell said. "But is our distribution system such that it produces unintended consequence? That's our concern."
Opposition to the petition drive and the ballot issue, if the matter goes to an election, is being led by the group Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods.
Banning medical marijuana centers would deprive patients of the medicine and professional guidance they need to treat ailments such as chronic pain and muscle spasms, said Terri Gomez, campaign manager for the group.
Patients would have to go to a caregiver who grows marijuana in a home setting to get their medicine or potentially the black market if centers are shut down, she said.
"It would push medical marijuana out of highly regulated and secured centers and into neighborhoods," Gomez said.
Centers offer patients assurances they are receiving a quality product, she said. Commercial facilities can test for mold and pesticides, offer a variety of strains that are effective against specific health problems, and provide delivery methods other than smoking, such as edibles, tinctures and even suppositories.
"You want to know (production) is being done in a licensed, regulated, sanitary condition," she said. "You don't want this happening in someone's kitchen or bathroom."
Colorado voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution in 2000 permitting the use of marijuana to treat qualifying, debilitating medical conditions.
The retail dispensary model for distributing marijuana blossomed about two years ago after the U.S. Department of Justice said the Drug Enforcement Agency would not use its resources against those who follow the state's medical marijuana laws.
State law allows municipalities to ban medical marijuana businesses from their jurisdictions. Loveland, Windsor and Greeley have banned marijuana shops.
Larimer County also has banned marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, although two centers just outside Fort Collins city limits that started the county's land-use review process before the ban was enacted eventually were approved by the county commissioners.
Several others proposed businesses were not approved by the county, primarily over concerns about neighborhood compatibility.
In Fort Collins, city staff and the City Council went through a long process of establishing regulations for licensing dispensaries and grow operations, including restricting them to commercial and industrial zoning districts. The city has 21 medical marijuana centers, according to the City Clerk's Office.
Critics say Fort Collins is becoming the "weed capital" of Northern Colorado because it allows dispensaries and is sending a message to the city's youths that marijuana use is acceptable and harmless. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Powell said the retail dispensary model leads to an overproduction of marijuana that eventually reaches the black market, making it readily available for recreational users.
Supporters of the petition drive are studying whether the area has seen an increase in illegal marijuana use and production and the possible connection to marijuana businesses, he said.
"That's an unintended harm and something we should talk about as a community," he said.
Steve Ackerman, owner of Organic Alternatives and president of the Northern Colorado Medical Marijuana Business Council, said he doubts the data will support the contention that more marijuana is circulating illegally in the community.
Marijuana grown by dispensaries is monitored by the states and has to be accounted for, he said. The price of marijuana at his shop - between $80 and $90 for a quarter ounce - is higher than prices on the streets, he said.
"There's no profit motive for someone to come in here and buy it from us and sell it to someone else," he said. "There's just no margin."
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