Cannabis club moratorium passes second reading

Colorado Springs City Council pumped the brakes on the economic engine of local marijuana at its Oct. 13 meeting, upholding upon second reading a six-month moratorium on cannabis social clubs and passing by a 5-4 vote an amended moratorium on medicinal marijuana industries. The vote on medicinal facilities was a first reading, to be readdressed Oct. 27.

The medicinal moratorium restricts the planning department until May from giving the green light to new establishments to begin operations or allow for any operating facility to move or expand. It affects medicinal marijuana’s three recognized industries — dispensaries, commercial grow operations and manufacturers of cannabis-infused products.

Councilors Tom Strand, Bill Murray, Jill Gaebler and Helen Collins voted against the medicinal moratorium, while Council President Merv Bennett, Keith King, Andy Pico and the initial backers of the moratorium, Don Knight and Larry Bagley, voted in support.

According to Peter Wysocki, city director of planning and development, the six-month timeout allows the city to review zoning and determine if any unconsidered business models could pose a safety threat or public nuisance. Wysocki said there was some discussion as to whether medical marijuana facilities’ zoning allowances were too broad.

“Intuitively it appears so,” Wysocki said. “However, our [land] use tables are so long and so broadly defined it’s difficult to say.”

Knight argued that, due to the vast array of potential locations that dispensaries, infused product manufacturers and growers can use, residents and business owners in those areas have little recourse if they are unhappy with those businesses. Knight said the impetus to his proposing the moratorium was a constituent’s complaint about a potential gas station and marijuana dispensary that showed interest in opening in the city.

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“There is a need [for the moratorium] to address the imbalance,” Knight said.

Murray, who vigorously opposed the moratorium when first presented Sept. 22, said the tool should only be “used as a weapon,” but he still did not perceive a threat to public safety.

“Is there an opportunity without a moratorium to resolve these particular issues?” Murray asked Knight. “You say it’s a crisis issue. We need to stop it now. You’re talking about a mature industry that’s been here 15 years. … But there have been no violations. What’s the urgency to stop the process?”

Murray asked if there had been any complaints. He was told there have been several, all odor-related.

Councilors who supported the moratorium said the six months would allow the time needed to form a task force, meet with stakeholders and review ordinances. Wysocki said the moratorium is actually pro-business, stating it would prevent a new business from opening only to find it was noncompliant within months.

There was a failed motion to take out language about restricting license transfers and expansion, which could impact existing businesses. A motion to sunset the moratorium in six months, rather than allowing Council to continue it indefinitely, passed with only Collins voting against. Those who spoke publicly to oppose the proposal (primarily industry supporters) said the moratorium could put existing operations out of business, or severely hamper the opportunity to grow revenue, and the plant itself. Several said the moratorium was anti-business and threatened to sue the city if it passed.

“I believe it was unwarranted. When we make a law we want to make a law that protects public safety,” said Jason Warf, director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council. “There was absolutely no reason for the moratorium. … There seemed to be an impression today that [medical marijuana] is something new and has only been around four or five years, when, in fact, we’ve had medical stores since right after 2000. Our organization has represented them since 2008. I think it was a bad night. Hopefully next time that vote will go the other way.”

“There is a need to address the imbalance.” 

– Don Knight

The medical marijuana moratorium, while a first reading, was not Council’s introduction to the topic. That suspension initially was lumped in with cannabis social clubs and presented to Council Sept. 22. The moratorium was bifurcated, splitting clubs from medical marijuana. A first reading of the club issue passed that day and was upheld by an 8-1 vote Oct. 13. The handful of clubs in the city will be grandfathered in as long as they are legally compliant, but any club not yet open will have to wait until May. Law enforcement shared concerns that some cannabis clubs were operating in gray areas, selling marijuana to patrons.

Pamela Bowen, a retired Colorado Springs District 11 special education teacher of 40 years, said her goal was to open a cannabis club with a therapeutic component.

“When marijuana came into the state of Colorado, I was thrilled. We became a leader nationally [and] globally … Instead of pulling us back, I encourage us to look forward and move,” she said.

“You’re holding me back. Don’t hold me back because I’ve got a lot to offer.”