Uncertainty and controversy surround medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado. As the state and nearby municipalities grapple with the issue, …
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Uncertainty and controversy surround medical marijuana
dispensaries in Colorado.
As the state and nearby municipalities grapple with the issue,
Littleton seemingly has brought some order to the industry within
On Jan. 19, the city council passed an ordinance regulating
dispensaries in Littleton. But the new rules, passed just a week
after Denver approved a similar ordinance, do not come without some
uncertainty and controversy 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.
Other rules established include licensing procedures; mandatory
distances from schools and other dispensaries; security
requirements; and the amount of floor space that can be used to
Crafted over a two-month period, the ordinance is among the
first in the Denver metro area to address dispensaries, which have
proliferated only since the summer of 2009.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s a good, solid piece of
legislative work,” Councilmember Bruce Stahlman said.
Stan Zislis said he appreciates the council’s labor on the issue
but the end result falls short.
“They ignored the voices of the people who spoke before them,”
said Zislis, who planned to open a dispensary on Arapahoe Road in
More than 20 people voiced their views 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.
After the hearing, council made amendments to the ordinance
before final approval, but did not modify the items that drew the
Members of the general public weighed in as well. Sources of
comment 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.
How many is enough?
Some who spoke at the public hearing said the allowable hours of
operation — 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week — aren’t enough.
Others took issue with the 20 percent limit on a dispensary’s floor
space that can be used to grow marijuana.
The ordinance’s cap of four on the number of dispensaries,
however, has caused the most buzz, largely because five additional
businesses 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 90-day moratorium on new dispensaries was enacted
Nov. 3. Four dispensaries are sufficient to meet patients’ needs in
Littleton, he said.
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,” Stahlman said.
Zislis disputes the need for a cap, which apparently will keep
him from opening his dispensary, CannaMart, in the city.
“They should let the market regulate how many dispensaries are
going to be here,” he said.
“I believe officials are enforcing their own biases.”
CannaMart recently filed a lawsuit against the City of
Centennial after the location there was closed down. The lawsuit
also asked for — and ultimately was granted — a preliminary
injunction that would allow the business to reopen while the suit
runs its course.
Zislis said he is reviewing his options as they relate to his
Getting a license
In Littleton, it is not certain that when the dust settles, the
dispensaries now open will be left standing.
“It’s possible that some of the first four may not make it
through the licensing process,” Clark said.
At the Jan. 19 meeting, an ordinance was approved that changed
the name of the Liquor Licensing Authority to simply the Licensing
Authority and expanded its jurisdiction to include
A resolution also was passed that established the fees for
dispensaries’ applications and licenses. Included are a $2,500
application fee and an annual $2,000 license fee.
An additional small fee is included to cover the cost of a
criminal background check. No one with a 5 percent or greater
ownership interest or any manager of a dispensary can have a felony
conviction on record.
Part of the ordinance’s intent, as stated in its introduction,
is to preserve the city’s “family friendly character.”
“One of our overriding obligations is to honor our
responsibility for the health, welfare and safety of our citizens,”
Dispensaries across the Denver metro area have been linked to
crimes in recent months, mainly as victims of robberies and
burglaries. But a Littleton police officer reported that no crimes
have been directly related to the businesses in the city.
One of the security measures the ordinance mandates is the use
of surveillance cameras by dispensaries.
Janene Nachtsheim believes one of the best ways to promote
safety would be to allow businesses like hers to grow all of their
own marijuana, which she said is not possible using one-fifth of
the facility. It would help ensure quality control and keep away a
potential criminal element, she said.
“By limiting it, we are not able to provide all the medicine for
our patients,” said the owner of Mother Nature’s Miracle, located
on Littleton Boulevard. “We have to outsource.”
Nachtsheim only buys from known, reputable sources, she said,
but fears others are tempted to purchase from more questionable
Nachtsheim said her dispensary does fit in with the family
environment of the city and cited the ordinance’s restriction on
age — no one under 18 can enter the shops. It also keeps the
businesses 1,000 feet or more away from schools.
Littleton is far from alone in its effort to regulate
Neighboring Englewood and Centennial have moratoriums on new
dispensaries while they mull courses of action. Meanwhile, possible
legislation at the state level could change the entire medical
marijuana climate in Colorado.
For example, state Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, has been
expected to introduce a bill that would limit to five the number of
patients a caregiver could treat.
If such legislation were to pass, it could financially doom
dispensaries, which presently can provide for dozens of
“Everything would be run underground,” Nachtsheim said. “It
would cause complete chaos.”
City officials and state legislators are confronting the
dispensary issue because Amendment 20 — which Colorado voters
passed in 2000, legalizing medical marijuana — did not.
The businesses started cropping up in large numbers last year
for a couple of reasons.
In July, the Colorado Board of Health rejected a plan that would
have limited the number of patients a caregiver could provide for
While marijuana possession remains against federal law, in
October, the Justice Department said it would not pursue cases
against medical marijuana users and suppliers, as long as they
followed state law.
Even if sweeping change does not come from the state, Littleton
could revisit its ordinance and make alterations if the need
arises, councilmembers have acknowledged.
Their weeks of work and compromise began shortly after the
moratorium was imposed. Rather than extending the moratorium and
waiting for the state, it was decided that rules needed to be
established for a new industry that was poised to grow even as they
“We did, I think,” Councilmember Peggy Cole said, “the best we
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