Woodland Park to Outlaw Legal Weed Outlets

Add Woodland Park to the growing list of cities in Colorado who are saying “no way” to the idea of opening their municipal doors to future medical-marijuana dispensaries.

In an informal vote, the Woodland Park Council last week unanimously decided to give City Attorney Erin Smith the go-ahead to proceed with plans to draft a new law prohibiting medical-cannabis outlets and pot-related grow centers within the city limits. A public hearing, finalizing this ban, may occur within the next month and a half. If the council reaffirms its “no medical-marijuana outlets, period” stand, this would make Woodland Park permanently off-limits for any future dispensary or commercial grow center.

However, the city can’t snuff out marijuana smoke altogether.

In fact, the city still can’t prohibit caregivers or eligible medical-marijuana patients from growing a certain amount of cannabis plants at their residences, if they meet the requirements of the law. Colorado voters authorized the use of a limited amount of medical-marijuana by valid patients who are suffering from certain health ailments and serious diseases in 2000. The issue didn’t become controversial until the summer of 2009, when the federal government announced plans to no longer pursue prosecution of many marijuana cases in states that authorized the medical use of the drug. This led to an explosion of hundreds of dispensaries throughout the state, especially in sections surrounding Colorado Springs and Denver.

The council’s anti-marijuana action was not unexpected and comes as local leaders face a pending deadline for deciding what course it must take in the complex arena of regulating medical-cannabis outlets. The council held a closed-door executive session on this topic at the beginning of last week’s meeting.

The WP elected leaders opted for the simplest solution and one that has been endorsed by nearly 50 towns in Colorado. But by pursuing this course, the city basically nullifies the detailed work of the planning commission, which last spring recommended where these medical-marijuana shops could be located and outlined various land-use regulations pertaining to this issue.

However, the planning commission action, according to Smith, occurred before the state legislature gave Colorado city and county governments the right to enact year-long moratoriums and to prohibit dispensaries in local communities. Last summer, Woodland Park issued a year-long moratorium for future dispensaries and current applications, in an effort to see how the controversy would play out.

“I think we did the right thing by taking our time,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jon DeVaux, who made the suggestion last week to proceed with action to prohibit medical-pot shops throughout the city.

The entire council agreed and made few public comments. At the same time, several leaders noted they will leave the door open for those who favor these outlets to voice their opinions during a forthcoming public hearing.

The council’s anti-marijuana verdict was influenced by information, indicating that the extra revenue the city could receive in extra sales taxes from these businesses would not cover the additional expenses for enforcement. “It is pretty hard to break even,” said Mayor Steve Randolph at last week’s meeting. “I don’t see a reason to bring these (medical-marijuana dispensaries) to Woodland Park.”

“You are doing the right thing,” yelled resident Tom Brazil from the audience.

Plus, DeVaux noted that the needs of medical-marijuana patients are being met by several nearby outlets in the unincorporated sections of Teller and El Paso counties, along with dozens of outlets in Colorado Springs.

More importantly, DeVaux, in a later interview, maintained that the far majority of citizens are against opening the doors to dispensaries in Woodland Park. “I haven’t had one person come up to me and say they want to see one of these businesses open up in Woodland Park. We don’t want this,” said DeVaux. “There is just so much abuse with medical-marijuana.”

During a Colorado Municipal League conference last summer, DeVaux said leaders received a hefty dose of horror stories regarding enforcement problems regarding certain medical-marijuana hubs that violated building codes. “It’s like battling meth labs in some cases. We don’t have the resources for this,” said DeVaux.

And from a business standpoint, the mayor pro tem doesn’t see why future dispensary operators would want to open an outlet in Woodland Park and pay higher sales taxes and fees.

County rules still up in the air
With the council’s forthcoming medical-pot ban, the Teller County government could become a major player in determining the future of these types of businesses in the area.

According to Teller County Commissioner Jim Ignatius, the Teller Planning Commission plans to officially start addressing this issue in the spring of 2011. The commissioner said the county’s intent has been to finalize its rules by the end of June. That’s when a moratorium declared on new applicants will be lifted. “We are in the process of researching this issue and waiting until the state finalizes its regulations,” said Ignatius, in an interview last week.

Ignatius stressed that the county needs to decide how it will regulate these businesses from a land-use perspective and if it wants to license these new establishments. The latter decision is significant, as the county currently doesn’t license any business other than liquor establishments.

According to Ignatius, the upcoming process will permit plenty of public input from residents during hearings before the planning commission and then the board of commissioners.

“We are looking forward to dealing with this,” said Ignatius, who cited finalizing rules for current and future medical-marijuana businesses as one of the county’s top issues for 2011. Teller currently only has two current medical-marijuana dispensaries, one located just outside the Woodland Park city limits and another outlet in Divide. How they will be impacted, if at all, is still unclear.

Despite the controversy over the issue, Ignatius said the commissioners have received hardly any input regarding the subject of medical-marijuana outlets.

Ignatius stressed that the county doesn’t want to deny the rights of eligible patients to access this medicine, citing the fact that the original constitutional amendment was approved by a comfortable margin. In addition, county leaders have expressed no desire to implement a ban on future establishments or have a local vote.

Unlike cities and towns in Colorado, the results for counties trying to prohibit medical-marijuana dispensaries have produced mixed results. Proposed medical-marijuana ban attempts were rejected during the November election in both Park and El Paso counties.