After undergoing what essentially has been three first readings, Colorado Springs City Council has yet to clear the haze (is that copyrighted?), it seems, when it comes to further regulating medicinal marijuana operations in Colorado Springs. A six-month moratorium on new MMJ businesses with an under-the-wire amendment passed 6-2 Oct. 27 (Councilor Bill Murray was absent) with Councilor Hellen Collins and President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler voting against. Murray, who is in Boston, has been staunchly against a moratorium from the beginning.
The amendment aimed to soften the blow for existing businesses and would allow “hardship” hearings with the City Clerk’s Office if an operation needed to move during the temporary licensing ban.
Gaebler, who has opposed every other vote for a medical marijuana moratorium, said the amended language doesn’t include an appeals process upon denial from the Clerk’s Office and said there is no protection for lessees, should they be locked into a location and rent is drastically increased. Gaebler also reiterated that the industry has been operating, with few problems, since 2000.
Councilor Don Knight, who first introduced the six-month ban in September, informed Gaebler and all others in attendance that “any moratorium is better than no moratorium.”
Consider this: The first reading of a medical marijuana industry moratorium was on Sept. 22. At that point, medical marijuana operations were lumped together with cannabis social clubs as Knights’ targets. Since late September and, likely due to the pleading of many in the MMJ industry, the two issues were bifurcated into separate moratorium discussions.
And rightfully so. They are mutually exclusive operations with mutually exclusive laws and oversight. Council, that evening you earned a gold star for rationality.
Fast forward two weeks to the first official reading of a moratorium on the medical marijuana industry alone, and more last-minute changes were made from the dais. The six-month moratorium, which could have been extended under the discretion of Council, was capped at six months so zoning and public impact studies couldn’t go on indefinitely. Another gold star. But, despite opponents’ best efforts, the moratorium passed that first reading.
Let’s move ahead to Council’s Oct. 27 meeting, when the moratorium was to undergo its final reading before becoming law. This time, another amendment was introduced to allow existing businesses to claim hardships should the moratorium threaten their enterprise. But opponents once again argued the moratorium goes too far by punishing established business owners, employees and their families and medical marijuana patients. It was also argued that the amendment was so rushed, it didn’t allow public vetting. Some on council admitted to not seeing the amendment until hours before the meeting. And because of the amendment, the moratorium must again undergo a second reading in another two weeks, nearly two months since the original proposal was seen in September.
Is this the best our leadership can do? Is this the most efficient, collaborative and fairest way to regulate what is arguably the most regulated business in the state? Is, as Knight said, any moratorium better than no moratorium at all?
Simply the answer to all three, is no.
Council has made progress in ironing out some of the moratorium’s wrinkles during the past three hearings. Proof is that the verbiage that made it through the last Council meeting looks nothing like the original proposal. But those same strides could have been made without the haunting specter of temporary prohibition. Council discussed the need for a task force or advisory committee that would represent all stakeholders. That committee would burn the candle at both ends during the next six months in order to create sound policy for future zoning of cannabis operations. But council’s inability to get through a second reading of this issue proves two things:
First, civil discussion and collaboration, given enough time, could placate all sides.
Second, the piecemeal approach shows Council was nowhere near ready to introduce legislation regarding this issue. It seemed Councilor Andy Pico wasn’t even sure what the issue was after his non sequiturs about marijuana being diverted to black markets outside the state and grow operations using too much electricity. Are those zoning concerns?
Progress could have been made without the threat of a moratorium. And the moratorium, like it or not, does threaten businesses that have operated in the community for more than a decade.
Gaebler, often a voice of reason, explained her opposition to the amendment and the moratorium.
“I do think, again, we’re rushing to try to bring forward some amendment that hasn’t been, in my opinion, vetted very well by the city attorney. I do think there could be unintended consequences to this industry who, let’s not forget, has been operating in our community for years,” Gaebler said. “I just think we should, instead of a moratorium, work diligently and thoughtfully to bring forward whatever legislation we need to bring forward to change zoning or modify how we think this industry should best work within our community, instead of trying to put a temporary hold on them. … I can’t support this legislation.”
Knight, however, disagreed.
“We’ve listened to concerns,” he said. “We didn’t vote on [the moratorium] on the 22nd of September ‘cuz we realized we didn’t have it right. We took the time to get it right.”
Well, with all due respect Mr. Knight, if you’d taken the time to get it right, shouldn’t your moratorium already be law?