marijuana-voteThe Colorado Springs medical marijuana task force will present its recommended restrictions for zoning and home grows to City Council on March 21 — and the task force plans one more meeting March 14 to discuss further changes to the city’s medical marijuana regulations.

After the initial presentation, City Council will conduct first and second readings of the ordinances to adopt them prior to the May 25 expiration of a six-month medical marijuana industry moratorium.

Infusing or extracting

The first of three votes concerned the appropriate zoning for commercial grow operations. Dispensaries, commercial grow operations and infused product manufacturers are currently allowed in commercial and manufacturing zones by right, meaning there is no special approval process.

The task force voted to restrict future grow operations to manufacturing zones, but allow grow operations to apply for conditional use permits to locate in any other zone, except residential.

There was spirited debate between Planning Director Peter Wysocki and task force member and attorney Charles Houghton about the city’s recommendation to limit grows to industrial zones.

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Wysocki said commercial grows are best classified as crop production under city code, and because of that, they should be limited to manufacturing zones.

“The code makes a distinction between your typical nursery where you would buy a tree or shrub to plant in your yard or business, versus crop cultivation that’s not intended for that commercial use or for landscaping purposes,” Wysocki said, adding that use tables in city code only allow that type of business to operate out of an agricultural zone.

“We haven’t discussed that much at this point given there’s virtually no land zoned [agricultural], with the exception of some large tracts of previously annexed property that has not been developed. Agriculture [zones] are used as holding zones, typically by residential developers. With that, M1 and M2 [manufacturing zones] would seem very appropriate considering the potential negative impact such facilities could result in.”

Houghton said, by the city’s definition, commercial grows could also fit the definition of a commercial greenhouse, which is allowed in commercial zones.

“They are commercial greenhouses by your definition,” Houghton told Wysocki. “Their products are grown to be transported somewhere else. To limit that to an industrial zone doesn’t make sense. They are not a heavy industry use by any stretch of the imagination. … Why can I grow tomatoes and not marijuana? The process is the same. And unless you were inside the greenhouse you wouldn’t know if I was growing potatoes, petunias or Purple Kush [cannabis].”

Despite the objections, all task force members except Jan Doran voted in favor of placing future grows in industrial zones and allow businesses to apply to be in other zones as a conditional use. Doran, chairwoman of the El Paso County Citizen Outreach Group and director emeritus of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, voted that grows operate exclusively in manufacturing zones.

Not all the same

The group discussed whether infused product manufacturers should also be relegated to manufacturing zones.

Dispensary owner Tom Scudder said there should be a distinction between types of manufacturers, adding it would make sense that those extracting elements from marijuana plants using combustible materials, such as butane or alcohol, be zoned away from commercial and residential areas. He added, though, that infusing businesses (akin to a bakery) use noncombustible materials and shouldn’t face the same restrictions.

A task force vote on zoning restrictions for infused product manufacturing businesses was delayed until March 14, (a meeting added March 4 specifically for this issue), to allow time to differentiate between manufacturers using hazardous materials and those that do not.

Two additional votes on draft ordinances were unanimous — plant count requirements in residential grows and creating a criminal component for infractions.

The group will recommend to City Council that residential grows not exceed 12 plants, six of which can be mature. The city could also require a filtration system to mitigate smell; grows must take place within an enclosed space; and growers must obtain written consent from the residence’s owner. Any modifications to the home must also fall under building, zoning and fire regulations.

Some members balked at criminal charges for violations, which would not exceed a $2,500 fine and 189 days in jail.

“For far too long in this country we have dealt with cannabis in a criminal manner. In a way, quite frankly, that is pretty inconsistent when you consider the medicinal properties and the reality of it,” Scudder said.

“I think [criminal charges] could be misused in certain instances. My personal recommendation would be that it not be criminal in any way.”