Eagle rejects dispensary expansion
EAGLE, Colorado – Sweet Leaf Pioneer, the medical marijuana dispensary approved earlier this year in Eagle, is still in business but Tuesday night the Eagle Town Board rejected a request to expand the operation.
Sweet Leaf owner Dave Manzanares had requested a new special use permit for his business to expand into the neighboring unit of the building where his dispensary is located. In January, the town board approved a permit for the dispensary, which is located at 1286 Chambers Ave. But in the wake of new regulations from the Colorado Legislature, Manzanares proposed expansion of the business to include a cultivation operation and a kitchen to prepare marijuana infused products. The new state law includes a provision that 70 percent of the product sold at a dispensary must be cultivated locally. Additionally, Manzanares said that the expansion was always part of his business plan.
Tuesday night, the town board was faced with deciding whether the proposed expansion was compatible with existing uses in the building. But for a large crowd of people assembled at town hall Tuesday night, the bigger issue of medical marijuana’s importance for patients was up for debate.
Eagle resident Angela Shy urged the board to approve the application, saying it is time to change the face of an old stereotype. She pointed out the “hypocrisy” of accepting alcohol use while marijuana use, which has proven to be beneficial for people who are suffering pain, is still stigmatized.
Mike Friend, who identified himself as a local journalist, said one of the main reasons he moved to Eagle was because the community had approved medical marijuana. He said since a back injury many years ago, he has battled pain and medical marijuana has been a successful treatment for him. He noted he was sharing his private medical history because he believes it is important to advocate for other people like himself.
“Be compassionate,” he said.
Shawn McAllister, a Breckenridge attorney who represents medical marijuana interests statewide and who is representing Sweet Leaf, noted the state is at a crossroads with the issue. “We are going to get to a place of peace on this issue. We are not there yet,” he said. “With a recession economy, why would you consider shutting down something that is providing revenue for the town?”
“Mr. Manzanares is not going to just walk away from this,” McAllister continued.
He argued that there is widespread support for medical marijuana as evidenced by Eagle County voters support of the ballot measure that approved its use.
“I think you are in the majority when you support applications like the one before you tonight,” said McAllister.
Speaking out against the application were two business owners who have offices in the same building as Sweet Leaf.
Becky Sobek is one of the owners of Human Resources Plus, a human resources business located in the building. She noted that when the dispensary was first proposed, she and her partner objected to the operation but when the dispensary was approved, they agreed to respect the town’s decision. But Sobek argued against the expansion saying a commercial kitchen would be incompatible with other uses in the structure.
Eagle Police Chief Rodger McLaughlin noted that his department has had a generally positive relationship with Manzanares and his operation, but argued against expansion. He noted that dispensaries, which routinely operate on a cash basis and include lots of high value product, are ripe for robbery attempts. He also expressed the strong belief that marijuana is a gateway drug for kids.
“I’m not trying to disparage people who use medical marijuana,” said McLaughlin. “But it is still a federal crime to grow and sell it.”
McLaughlin also expressed concerns about the upcoming Eagle County referendum on medical marijuana dispensaries. He noted if voters reject such operations in incorporated parts of the county, on top of decisions by several local municipalities to prohibit such businesses, Eagle could be the only local site permitting them.
“The police department couldn’t handle the extra stress that will cause us,” he said.
When the time came to vote on the issue, town board members honed in on the application specifics, questioning the compatibility of the expansion.
Town board member Scott Turnipseed noted he did not have a problem with the terms of the original permit allowing the dispensary and that he supported its location on Chambers Avenue. However, he said the expansion plan was a problem because the addition of cultivation and cooking operations would naturally lead to more ventilation issues.
“If I had a business in that building and could smell marijuana all the time, I would be very, very upset,” he said.
Turnipseed also questioned the assertion that the new state requirements mandated on-site cultivation. He said the rules are not that strict and the business could still obtain product from growers in other parts of the state.
Ultimately the board rejected the expansion request in a split vote with Mayor Ed Woodland and members Yuri Kostick and Mikel Kerst voting in favor and members Turnipseed, Roxie Deane, Scot Webster and Kraige Kinney opposed.
After the vote, Manzanares declined comment.