Cripple Creek Imposes Rules Against Medical Marijuana Patients

City becomes first local municipality that tackles home-cultivation of legal weed

If you want to use or grow medical cannabis inside your home, don’t bother your neighbors.

This is the gist of new proposed rules in Cripple Creek that govern the use of medical marijuana for residents who are either caregivers or medicinal pot patients. These new rules only allow homeowners or tenants to grow pot plants within a certain area and impose strict standards that would protect neighbors against marijuana-related odors and any visible traces of the drug or signage that may welcome pot-users.

In what could become a growing trend in the region, the Creek government, which has completely outlawed any future commercial businesses for legal weed or marijuana grow centers, wants to further regulate the uses of medical pot inside residential areas.

By a 4-1 vote, the city council last week approved the initial review of new marijuana cultivation regulations, but posed plenty of questions. When leaders address the issue during the final reading next month, they want to receive more input from the local police department.

In fact, the issue generated a fair amount of public comment, with some residents and council members wondering why the town elected leaders are passing laws they say clashes with the anti-weed stand of the federal government. “Is the city condoning an anti-federal law?” questioned Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner, when referring to Amendment 20, the state law that authorizes the use of a limited amount of medical marijuana for patients who are suffering from cancer and incurring other ailments. “We still have a federal mandate that contradicts that.”

Welcome to the quirky reality of the state’s medical marijuana controversy, countered City Attorney Lee Phillips. “It is legal under state law, but is illegal under federal law,” admitted Phillips.

As a result, he admitted that patients and their caregivers are “taking a calculated risk” by growing medical pot. “Somewhere down the line someone is breaking the law,” added Phillips, in explaining the current scenario that in reality makes it legal for medicinal marijuana patients to use the drug, but raises questions regarding how they are supposed to obtain their medicine.

According to Phillips, the medical marijuana landscape has gotten confusing by the fact that the feds in 2009 took an apparent hands-off stand regarding the prosecution of marijuana cases in states that had legalized the medicinal use of the drug like Colorado. Then in 2011, the federal government reversed this stand and indicated that any centers that openly sold cannabis and other related products, even if it was purchased by medicinal marijuana patients, could face federal criminal penalties.

But at the same time, the state adopted fairly strict guidelines for the operations of marijuana dispensaries. To date, the feds haven’t shut down any medical marijuana centers in Colorado, but have threatened many businesses in California.

The new proposed city restrictions generated mixed sentiments by local residents.

Resident Les Batson, who serves with the historical preservation commission, defended the new rules regarding the cultivation of medical pot. Although not a user, Batson said he knows many medical marijuana patients and outlined the difficulties they now encounter with more places shutting down, such as a dispensary in Victor. He cites the new rules as more of a convenience and necessity for local patients, who are mostly over 50 years old and are often incurring bad health. “It regulates even more what is regulated,” said Batson.

But other residents disagreed with these sentiments and believe the new rules give the impression that the city is condoning this activity. “It will get out of hand,” blasted resident Vincent Thoms. “We are going against the federal government.” Thoms and Councilman Terry Wahrer questioned having a system that wouldn’t have any enforcement other than through complaints. Wahrer contended that neighbors could end up as big losers under the new rules. He also argued that the new rules may clash with the city’s public health and safety obligations.

Another resident told the council that he views medical marijuana as an easy avenue for “people who want to smoke pot and get a buzz.”

Phillips, though, reminded the council that medicinal marijuana is permitted through the state constitution, as part of a ballot initiative approved by the Colorado voters. He stated that the city has already taken action to ban any commercial dispensaries or businesses that grow pot or sell marijuana-related products.

As for the home cultivation of marijuana, Phillips explained that the current state law permits a person, who has a permit, to grow five plants, but only three of which can be blooming at one time. With these new restrictions, Phillips said the city is acknowledging the legal cultivation of medical cannabis by valid patients, but is imposing one huge caveat: “You can’t impact your neighbor.”

The council agreed to okay the new rules, but sought more input from the Cripple Creek Police Department. They requested that officials from CCPD attend the final hearing on this issue. Wahrer, who maintained that too many unanswered questions exist, cast the sole dissenting vote.

Some of the key provisions of the new law include:

*The cultivation of marijuana plants can’t be visible from the exterior of a residence, with set rules against cannabis-related odors, undue vehicular or foot traffic, the growth of plants in common areas of a multi-family area and light pollution.

*The growth of marijuana plants must be limited to specific secure areas, such as inside a 150-square-foot-room or area within the home of a licensed patient or registered caregiver; and within a 100-foot-square contiguous area for a multi-family dwelling.

*No cultivation or production can occur of marijuana plants in any accessory structures.

*People who cultivate or use marijuana plants must abide by a strict adherence to water, sewer and public safety regulations.