The El Paso County Board of Commissioners will decide Oct. 5 whether to renew the license of New Age Medical, a medical marijuana dispensary on the city’s far east side. That might seem like a simple process, but it’s anything but when the business has committed a violation.
For instance, commissioners denied the license renewal of New Horizons in May. The dispensary, among other violations, had inaccurate plant inventory, exceeded its plant limit and had a disconnected point-of-sale camera, according to first-year County Commissioner Mark Waller.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to close New Horizons, with Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton in the minority.
“According to their lawyer, those violations were nothing more than traffic tickets and we shouldn’t have denied the license,” Waller said. “A couple of those aren’t traffic tickets.”
Now it’s New Age Medical’s turn, and owner Forrest Charlesworth is worried about the outcome of the hearing. While Charlesworth will appear before the commissioners about his dispensary located close to Peterson Air Force Base, he also owns a branch on Garden of the Gods Road, as well as a grow operation.
Neither Charlesworth nor his attorney Cliff Black would discuss the violations, but both said they’re not enough to deny renewing his business license.
Charlesworth said his 15 employees are scared.
“They’re all afraid we’re going to be shut down,” he said.
The question becomes whether a majority of the five commissioners are willing to give the business owner a second chance and the opportunity to fix the mistakes.
“You can take out marijuana and insert whatever business it might be, and it’s a matter of evaluating the scope of the violation and if there’s corrective action necessary and if you think the potential violator has a plan to improve that in the future,” said BoCC President Darryl Glenn. “As long as you’re not repeating the same things, I’ll give you a second chance.”
But marijuana dispensary owners say other commissioners aren’t as obliging. Waller acknowledges he has a reputation for being tough on medical marijuana dispensaries, much of which comes after six years in the state Legislature, where he helped craft the state’s marijuana policy.
“Marijuana advocates would say I’m the most vocal opponent, but I don’t think that’s accurate,” Waller said. “I don’t think [marijuana is] good for our community, and it needs to absolutely be done responsibly.”
Still, he says he’s opposed to a zero-tolerance policy.
“It would be irresponsible to say there’s zero tolerance,” Waller said. “You wouldn’t need a hearing then.”
BUSINESS IS AT STAKE
Charlesworth, who lives in Denver, said he was a developer who also did work in the Springs before declaring bankruptcy during the recession. He bought the medical marijuana dispensary, one of five in the unincorporated areas of El Paso County, in 2012.
“I’d like the commissioners to take a look at how professional Mr. Charlesworth is in running his business and the steps he’s taken to mitigate the issues,” Black said. “These business owners make significant investments and to arbitrarily deny the license renewal just calls ‘foul.’ If the commissioners are going to be pro-business, they need to be at every level. That should cover these businesses too.”
Black said commissioners overreacted in denying New Horizons’ license renewal.
“I believe it’s their intent to rid the county of medical marijuana licensed businesses,” he said. “It’s a big concern to me because there might be violations in any industry. A construction company might have an issue with a building permit, but we don’t put them out of business. We ask them to rectify the issues. If a restaurant isn’t clean, we don’t close their doors. If a liquor store sells to a minor, we don’t shut them down when they’re up for renewal.”
Waller dismissed the comparisons to other businesses.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal federally,” Waller said. “This is a business that is operating on the fringes. So I think if I were doing it, I would go out of my way to make sure I was doing it correctly. This is different than building houses. This isn’t something that is societally accepted the way building houses is, so they have a responsibility to take the extra steps necessary to do it right every time. I firmly believe they hold that responsibility.”
Fellow commissioner Glenn disagreed, noting the complexities of marijuana regulations.
“Especially with this industry, it’s a constantly evolving issue and the laws and rules are changing,” Glenn said. “My mindset, whether it’s marijuana or something else, I try to not let that form a bias. To me, you evaluate the rules they’ve been given to operate under. We’re here to enforce the law. Part of being an attorney is setting aside whatever your personal bias is and you respect the will of the voters and you apply the rules and laws to that and you make a decision.”