Attorney and Colorado Springs marijuana task force member Charles Houghton offered his assessment of the group’s progress at its Feb. 19 meeting.
“Can our report say we need more time?” Houghton asked.
The City Council charged the group in November with making recommendations regarding medical marijuana industry regulations. The group’s authority ends next month — but it has yet to reach consensus on a number of issues, from residential grows to zoning and building requirements.
The task force is expected to report its findings and recommendations at Council’s work session March 21.
The group also wants to continue discussions about appropriate zoning for dispensaries, commercial grow areas and infused-product manufacturers.
And as the task force clock continues ticking, some of its members have expressed a sense of urgency. But others believe there is plenty of time beyond their March deadline.
“I don’t think this is any more down to the last minute than any other project,” said City Council Administrator Eileen Gonzalez. “We will have something to bring forward to council in kind-of the April or May time frame. What that is and whether it will have to go to the planning commission first will depend on the recommendations.”
The next task force meeting is scheduled for March 4 and Gonzalez said she hopes the group can reach consensus at that meeting.
“I anticipate at the next meeting we’ll have a list of a half-dozen specific policy recommendations,” she said, adding those could address conditional uses in case of zoning changes, square-footage limits for residential grows, as well as fire and police code enforcement capabilities.
Fire Marshal Brett Lacey said the Colorado Springs Fire Department is in talks with other departments around the state to create “consistent standards” for firefighters and inspectors.
“Home grows are significant concerns for fire departments in the state,” Lacey said. “We’ve had fires in Colorado Springs because of home grows and when crews go in, they’re assuming that it’s a residence.
“But they’re finding holes cut out of floors to accommodate plants; stairways are impeded or removed in parts to make way for ventilation, which can have their own electrical problems.”
As a code official, Lacey said he has trouble distinguishing what constitutes a residence.
“I look at homes with large grows and it’s hard for me to associate that with a residence,” he said. “It’s more like factory use.”
The police department is also reaching out to other departments to discover best practices, said task force member and Colorado Springs Police Commander Sean Mandel. He plans to have enforcement recommendations at the next task force meeting.
“We don’t want to put together an ordinance … if the enforcement piece doesn’t have some teeth to it,” Mandel said.
There was also discussion about whether the city has the necessary resources to enforce the task force’s recommendations.
“Don’t restrain your recommendations based on resources,” Gonzalez told the task force. “We want council to consider a range of possibilities.”
‘Buses through loopholes’
Caregiver plant counts have generated contentious discussion, largely because high plant counts are protected under Amendment 20 and the state constitution.
However, many Colorado municipalities have instituted their own reduced plant counts. At the task force’s last meeting, the city recommended residential grows be limited to a total of 12 plants. But some task force members caution against limiting plants, saying there are other ways to address safety.
Mark Slaugh, CEO of iComply, a cannabis compliance and lobbying organization, revisited previous arguments that plant counts don’t address public safety concerns and only harm medical users.
“I think the one person missing from this task force is a patient or the parent of a child patient,” Slaugh said, adding that more than 100 families have relocated to Colorado Springs to obtain medicinal marijuana treatments for children with epilepsy.
“In order for [that medicine] to be affordable, people have to make that oil at home, which means a need for high plant counts,” he said.
Slaugh recommended the task force consider ratios of wattage to square footage to determine safe energy limits for home grows, adding that he knew of no other municipality in the state considering that approach.
“This is a chance to think outside the box,” he said.
The task force should also consider how its recommendations could handicap already handicapped medicinal marijuana businesses in the city, he said.
“You’re attacking a symptom, and I warned council about this when it banned retail marijuana in the Springs [after the passage of Amendment 64],” he said.
“It would take 14,000 home grows to meet the demand this city has. If you won’t offer the option [of retail marijuana to voters] in November, it will force demand to be met by home grows, who are using current laws to drive buses through loopholes. That’s why Denver has a $3.2 million budget for [marijuana enforcement] agents. They have retail [sales] and they tax it.”
Restricting future commercial grows and infused-product manufacturers to industrial and manufacturing zones also drew significant discussion. Dispensaries, grow operations and infused-product manufacturers are currently allowed in commercial and industrial zones.
Colorado Springs Deputy Chief of Staff Bret Waters said manufacturing and grow operations should not be allowed in the city’s commercial zones. However, the city’s commercial code currently allows both grow operations and light manufacturing, Houghton said.
“If the intent is to follow what is already allowed, then moving a grow or manufacturer out of [a commercial zone] makes no sense,” Houghton said. “Those areas are determined by the city to include light industry, manufacturing and commercial greenhouses.”
From the audience, Tanya Garduño, a former caregiver and president of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, said rezoning dispensaries would affect patients and drive more production to home grows.
“Every time you try to restrict access to patients, you’re perpetuating neighborhood grows,” she said.
City Councilor Larry Bagley, chairman of the task force, said he anticipates the group’s work to continue beyond the March presentation to Council.
“I don’t see this ending March 21,” Bagley said. “I see us going into April or May.”
The task force meeting planned for Feb. 26 was postponed until 1 p.m. March 4 to allow more time for task force members to consider final recommendations prior to Council’s March 21 work session.
The group has been meeting since November to come up with new methods of regulating medical marijuana industries in Colorado Springs.
A six-month moratorium on new businesses ends in May, but the deadline to provide recommendations to City Council is in March.