New pot bill could kill some Summit County dispensaries |

New pot bill could kill some Summit County dispensaries

Robert Allen
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Legislation to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries statewide could lead to closure of local businesses unable to afford compliance, but many people with a stake in the outcome appear optimistic.

“It’s really going to kill most of the small-time operators – mom and pop stores – because fees and the application process are so expensive,” said Sean McAllister, an attorney in Breckenridge who’s been active in medical marijuana issues.

He said “longer-established” dispensaries such as High Country Healing in Silverthorne and Medical Marijuana of the Rockies in Frisco have the patient base to sustain business once the regulations become effective.

State Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver – a sponsor of the bill – has said he aims for it to put 80 percent of dispensaries out of business.

But McAllister said such hype appears to be for political gain, and that while some dispensaries will close, the bill overall should go a long way toward institutionalizing the dispensary model.

“There are a lot of good things about this bill,” he said, adding that it helps to ensure patients have “safe, reliable access” to medical marijuana.

State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Summit Cove, voted for the version the state House passed last week.

She said she supports criminal background checks for dispensary owners as well as the right of local governments to decide whether to allow dispensaries.

“I’m supportive of the bill as it stands right now,” she said. “Obviously the horse has left the barn in terms of – this is a growing industry.

“We are moving upwards to 100,000 people in the state having a card. We had to figure this out.”

McAllister said allowing a town or city council to ban dispensaries without any vote from the constituency appears “completely unconstitutional.”

He also said that while the price of marijuana at the dispensaries – since they’ve begun popping up across the state – has dropped “to almost 50 percent of the black market,” increased expenses for the businesses will likely lead to increases in the price of the product.

Just how much it will cost for dispensaries to be in compliance will likely become more clear as the bill moves through the Senate. Estimates range from a few thousand dollars to $35,000.

Scanlan said licensing fees are to be based mostly on the size of the dispensary.

Potential model for other states

Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado – a group advocating a system where drug use is a health rather than crime issue – said Colorado’s legislation could become a model for other states regulating medical marijuana.

“This is really the first comprehensive crack at establishing statewide regulations,” he said, adding that California’s regulations aren’t as “thorough.”

He said the changes “by and large” appear positive as long as costs and security measures are kept to a reasonable level.

The legislation is likely to create a moratorium on new dispensaries from opening between July 2010 and July 2011.

The state would use that time to set up a body that appears to be “creating essentially a new wing on to the Department of Revenue to do nothing but license and regulate dispensaries,” he said.

If it’s approved by the state Senate, HB 1284 will go back before the House for a final vote before it’s sent to Gov. Ritter’s desk. It could be passed in the next few weeks.

Summit County Sheriff John Minor, a Republican, said the ambiguities of enforcing marijuana law without straightforward guidelines from the state “is killing us.”

“We look to the legislation to give us clear guidance,” he said. “That’s all we want.”

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