City passes dispensary ordinance

Posted 1/20/10

Uncertainty surrounds the future of medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, and controversy comes with their very existence. With an eye toward …

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City passes dispensary ordinance


Uncertainty surrounds the future of medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, and controversy comes with their very existence.

With an eye toward preserving a family friendly atmosphere, Littleton has taken steps to bring some order to the industry within its borders.

On Jan. 19, the city council passed an ordinance regulating dispensaries in the city. But the new rules, passed just a week after Denver approved a similar ordinance, do not come without some controversy and uncertainty of their own.

The ordinance, approved by a 6-1 margin on final reading, limits the number of dispensaries in the city to four — which is the number of shops presently operating in the city.

Other rules set by the ordinance include licensing procedures; mandatory distances from schools, parks and other dispensaries; security requirements, including required surveillance cameras; and the amount of floor space that can be used to grow marijuana (20 percent).

The cap on the number of dispensaries has raised the most concern, largely because nine facilities were granted sales-tax licenses.

Councilmember Jim Taylor — who represented the lone dissenting vote — said all nine have the right to operate and raised the possibility of lawsuits against the city.

“Because they had all been approved by the city, they should all be allowed to open up in the city,” Taylor said.

Mayor Doug Clark said not all the sales-tax licenses were issued before the city’s moratorium on dispensaries was enacted Nov. 3. Four dispensaries are sufficient to meet patients’ needs in Littleton, he said.

Councilmember Bruce Stahlman said the council was faced with the balancing act of meeting legitimate demand versus creating an increased demand, and he agreed that four is a good number.

“It’s much easier to start with a smaller number and increase it down the road than it is to start with a larger number and decrease it,” said Stahlman, who mentioned the ordinance could be revised if the need arises.

Stan Zislis doesn’t agree with the cap, which apparently will keep him from opening a dispensary on Arapahoe Road in Littleton.

“They should let the market regulate how many dispensaries are going to be here,” Zislis said.

“I believe officials are enforcing their own biases.”

Zislis’ CannaMart recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Centennial after his dispensary there was closed down.

The lawsuit on behalf of the dispensary and several clients also asked for a preliminary injunction that would allow the business to reopen while the suit runs its course. An Arapahoe County judge granted that request on Dec. 30.

In Littleton, it is not certain that when the dust settles, the dispensaries presently open will be left standing.

“It’s possible that some of the first four may not make it through the licensing process,” Clark said.

More than 20 people spoke for a combined two hours during the public hearing portion of the Jan. 19 city council meeting. Most of those who spoke were affiliated with a dispensary, citing a need for a change in the ordinance in some fashion. Comments from the general public ranged from a wounded combat veteran who uses marijuana to manage chronic pain to a senior citizen who said cannabis is corrupting the nation’s youth.

Dispensaries across the Denver metro area have been linked to crimes in recent months, but a Littleton police officer reported that no crimes have been directly related to the businesses in the city.

Littleton is far from alone in its efforts to regulate dispensaries. Neighboring Englewood and Centennial have moratoriums on new dispensaries while they mull courses of action. Meanwhile, possible legislation at the state level could throw a wrench in all municipalities’ plans.

State Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, is expected to introduce a bill that would limit to five the number of patients a caregiver could treat. Many fear that if such legislation were to pass, it would crush dispensaries, which presently can provide for dozens of patients.


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