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Medical marijuana: Colorado Springs zoning rule would force closure of 69 MMJ centers

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Tanya Garduno.
While members of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council are celebrating results showing that an El Paso County measure to ban medical marijuana businesses officially lost at the polls, they're already facing another potential crisis.

According to CSMCC president Tanya Garduno, a zoning change under consideration tomorrow could force the closure of 69 MMJ centers in the city -- 41 percent of the total.

Garduno says city planners put together a proposal in September that cemented many of the current rules under which Colorado Springs MMJ businesses have operated: a 400 foot buffer from K-12 schools, residential-zone restrictions and so on. However, she notes, "the city planning commission decided they wanted to have more time with that -- and that they wanted to increase the buffer zone to 1,000 feet and broaden the definition of schools to include preschools, colleges, universities and seminaries."

If this change goes into effect, nearly half of all centers in the city will be in violation of the rule, "and we're told grandfathering in isn't an option under the existing charter," Garduno continues. Moreover, "there's no option to relocate. Under HB-1284," the medical marijuana regulatory measure signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter in June, "we're required to stay in the same location and told not to attempt any expansion until July 1, 2011. That means the centers can't move, and all of them would be forced to go out of business."

What's motivating this policy shift? Hell if Garduno knows. "There's no real reason," she maintains. "We've had the 400-foot buffer since May of this year, and there's been no heightened crime in the area, no street fights with guns, no children coaxed into centers, no criminal or civic violations since this time. They've just put out this arbitrary number with no real justification, and it really doesn't make any sense."

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Janet Suthers.
CSMCC representatives will present this argument to the planning commissioners at the Thursday meeting. But Garduno fears that at least one of them -- Janet Suthers, wife of Colorado Attorney General and MMJ dispensary opponent John Suthers -- has already made up her mind.

"There are nine commissioners, but only seven of them will be in attendance and taking a vote -- and Janet Suthers has refused to tour one of these facilities," Garduno allows. "Most of the others have agreed to do that, but because marijuana is federally illegal, Suthers is refusing. And while I respect her opinion, I think she should remove herself from the discussion, because I don't think it's fair for her to regulate something she doesn't even acknowledge. It's like regulating car dealerships but saying, 'I don't want to go to a car dealership, and don't show me a car.'"

The meeting, which gets underway at 8:30 a.m. and could run throughout the day, is open to the public, "and we're definitely encouraging everyone to come out and make a statement, including patients," she goes on. "If you're a patient and your center is closed, you could be forced to move elsewhere even if you've formed a bond with the center. That can be scary for some patients."

And then there are the economic considerations.

"You're not looking at just shutting down 69 centers," Garduno says. "Those 69 centers have 69 leases, which means 69 new vacancies. And most of these places have off-site grow locations that would also be forced to close, so you can double that number. And from my experience, most centers employ between eight and 25 people. Even if you shoot low and say the average is ten people per center, you're looking at putting 700 people out of work for something that's not fixing any problem. No injury is being mitigated by this additional 600 feet."

Page down to get more details about tomorrow's meeting in a release from the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies:

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