OWN wants gap between dispensaries, residences

       The Westside's neighborhood advocacy group is seeking a distance buffer to keep medical marijuana dispensaries from being too close to homes.
       A vote by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) board June 10 asks the city to pass a law similar to a resolution passed by El Paso County commissioners this spring, which requires that dispensaries be at least 500 feet from a residence (as well as a school or church). The vote, urged by OWN President Welling Clark, also requests that the city be particularly sensitive to “mixed use” areas, such as those in the C-5 zone along West Colorado Avenue, in which houses and businesses are intermixed.
       “OWN will be requesting the city revise their ordinance and have it incorporate standoff distances,” he elaborated afterward, noting that OWN plans to seek support for its position from other city neighborhood groups.
       However, a residential-buffer concept does not appeal to the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, an advocacy group for the local industry. “I don't think that's where we want to go,” said Council President Tanya Garduno in an interview this week. She elaborated that she understands how the distance requirement could work in the county, which is generally less urban. However, in the city, with buildings closer together, “That would put so many places out of business,” she said.
       Garduno suggested that the concern appears to stem from a “fear of the unknown. People don't know what's happening behind those closed doors.” In the spirit of being “a good neighbor,” she pledged that the Cannabis Council would look into any reports of problem dispensaries and would provide tours to citizens so they can see how professionally the businesses are handled.
       The city status at present is that the City Council has established a set of “preapplication” requirements to allow existing dispensaries to continue - as well as, potentially, any business with a current sales tax license to set up shop - before the state-mandated cut-off of July 1. After that, a one-year moratorium on new dispensaries will begin.
       In the meantime, City Council plans to consider a more detailed ordinance to regulate the local cannabis industry.
       The preapplicatiom ordinance bans dispensaries in residential zones and mandates 400-foot distances from schools and daycare centers, but sets no distance restrictions from houses. Nor did any council member propose that idea at the two City Council meetings (May 25 and June 8) where the preapp ordinance was discussed.
       The three votes against the law (by Randy Purvis, Scott Hente and Daryl Glenn) appear to be based on philosophical grounds. Purvis, a Westside resident, said he would rather see the city's residents vote on whether they want dispensaries at all, while Hente, who represents District 1 north and west of Old Colorado City, said he has talked to doctors who don't believe dispensaries are the right approach to treating people's pain.
       City Councilmember Sean Paige, whose District 3 takes in West Colorado and the older Westside, said that currently, “I don't have an opinion on a buffer [between dispensaries and houses]. If it's too big, you create a de facto ban. If it's too little, that can create problems too. A happy medium is our goal, but we don't know what that will be. I'm not an expert on these things.”
       He expressed an argument similar to Garduno's, that medical marijuana dispensaries differ from places such as liquor stores or tattoo shops (which have distance requirements), in that they're locked up except for customers bearing cards authorized by doctors who have diagnosed them as needing marijuana for their pain. “The general public can't just walk into dispensaries,” he said. “They're closed unless a person shows a card.”

Westside Pioneer article