City to form task force
Ordinance 15-79 passed a second reading by Colorado Springs City Council Tuesday.
Via a 6-3 vote, the new law will place a six-month moratorium on the approval of new medical marijuana businesses, which include dispensaries, commercial grow operations and infused product manufacturers. Councilors Bill Murray, Jill Gaebler and Helen Collins voted against the ordinance.
According to the moratorium’s original draft introduced Sept. 22, the planning department would not approve new medical marijuana operations or expansions, nor would it approve new cannabis social clubs.
The two moratoriums were bifurcated by Council into separate discussions, and last month, a moratorium specific to new cannabis clubs passed. The moratorium specific to the medical industry, however, has undergone several iterations since first introduced in September by Councilor Don Knight.
Knight sponsored the temporary ban on new cannabis clubs and medical marijuana businesses, saying two months ago that the proposed ordinance was a response to a constituent who was alarmed about the possibility of a cannabis social club opening nearby.
Citizens supporting the moratorium at this week’s Council meeting indicated commercial grow operations in residential areas as a concern, stating those yields will likely be transported illegally across state lines.
John Harding, a Colorado Springs Realtor, said one such operation was in his neighborhood, near a school.
“We’ve been taken advantage of,” Harding said. “This is a modern day gold rush to exploit a cash crop, and the industry is moving faster than our ability to respond to its dangers and repercussions.”
Harding added that, even if the moratorium creates a strain on the ability for MMJ businesses to expand, it is not Council’s job to ensure the success of the medical marijuana industry.
“I’m a Realtor and can’t ask [the city] for more houses to sell,” he said.
Joel Aigner, primary operations director for cannabis compliance and lobbying group iComply, said he’s never heard of a commercial grow in a residential neighborhood, and that the operation likely falls within the “gray market” and will not be affected by the moratorium. Aigner said the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division already implements a stringent seed-to-sale tracking system, METRIC, to prevent out-of-state trafficking.
And not all real estate professionals agree with Harding. Mac Dorsey, another local broker/Realtor, said if the MMJ industry were having a negative impact on the community, real estate numbers would reflect it. He’s seen the opposite.
“There’s no evidence of real property loss,” Dorsey said, calling Colorado Springs an MMJ “hempicenter.” He said the real estate market is actually thriving.
“The current [real estate] market is better than it’s been in a long time,” he said. “More people are moving here than leaving. That certainly is not the sign of a distressed situation.”
“Maybe we should double down on marijuana.”
– Bill Murray
Knight countered, stating stricter regulations were also needed because the MMJ industry could pose a threat to the region’s military presence. He said marijuana was a recent concern expressed by Armed Forces leadership in Washington, D.C., during this year’s base relocation and closure discussions.
Murray, however, didn’t bite.
“In the last BRAC discussions, [Fort Carson] only lost 367 [troops],” Murray said. “There were states without marijuana that lost thousands. Maybe we should double down on marijuana.”
Collins, who served in the Navy, also questioned Knight’s statement.
“It’s against federal law for those in the military to smoke marijuana. They know their responsibility and they are grownups,” she said.
Gaebler, who has consistently opposed the ordinance, said the moratorium only prevents medical marijuana businesses “currently operating … from continuing to open new, legal businesses. It does not stop those who are already operating outside the law from starting illegal residential grows.”
Following the passage of the moratorium, Council President Merv Bennett noted procedures that would follow.
“We’ll be ID’ing our task force in the next week,” he said. The task force will be composed of community and industry representatives, and will be headed by Councilor Larry Bagley, who co-sponsored the law.