District 3 councilman opposes banning MMJ sales in neighborhoods

       District 3 City Councilmember Sean Paige said Oct. 13 he would not support any proposal banning the sale of medical marijuana in residential areas.
       To do so would be “unconstitutional,” he said, referring to the 1999 statewide vote that approved Amendment 20, allowing people in pain to get medical marijuana from care-givers. He also believes individual rights are at stake. “I don't like tattoo parlors, but I don't try to shut them down.”

City Councilmembers Sean Paige (left) and Randy Purvis answer questions from the audience during a town hall that Paige organized at Westside Community Center Oct. 13.
Westside Pioneer photo

       He reiterated his stance on the residential issue at least three times in response to direct questions from Fred Wisely, who was among the roughly 15 people at a town hall hosted by Paige and At-Large Councilmember Randy Purvis (a Westside resident) at the Westside Community Center.
       Wisely, the president of the Broadmoor Bluffs Homeowners Association (in the Cheyenne/Broad-moor area), said he was displeased by Paige's answers and that other association members would be too.
       A Westside residential advocacy group, the Organization of Westside Neighbors, has previously voted in favor of 500-foot setbacks from homes.
       Paige's District 3 covers the southwest area of Colorado Springs, including the older Westside and the Cheyenne/Broadmoor area.
       In his comments, Paige elaborated that he does favor a city ordinance that would encourage medical marijuana dispensaries to locate in commercial areas. However, he opined that care-givers have been quietly selling in neighborhoods since Amendment 20 passed, and he suggested that if dispensaries were overly regulated as a result of “misplaced anxiety” from the public such under-the-cover sales in residential areas would become even more commonplace.
       Westsider Dave Hughes proposed that the city approve a setback for medical marijuana dispensaries of 1,000 feet from residences. He said that was the distance established many years ago to dislodge porn shops from residential areas. As a result, they are only found nowadays in commercial centers, he said.
       But Paige said he could not support such a distance. “That would be a de facto ban,” he said.
       He also criticized a City Council majority that for months has not supported a draft ordinance that he and another council member, Tom Gallagher, had worked on with medical marijuana advocates. The draft includes short enough setback distances that most (if not all of) the 20-some dispensaries currently along West Colorado Avenue, for example, would be legal.
       Council is currently waiting for staffers to develop land-use standards that could be applied to medical marijuana facilities. But a presentation to Planning Commission a few weeks ago resulted in no consensus on setback distances.
       Purvis took a different view from Paige. He noted that dispensaries are not addressed in Amendment 20. He also said that with the many dispensaries that have opened their doors in the past year, there has been a “de facto legalization of marijuana.” He believes that a number of the users are healthy people, even high school students, who have used “fraud” to obtain the legal right to buy medical marijuana, which “creates the impression” that the narcotic itself is OK.
       In other comments, Paige, who was appointed in October 2009, said he was “leaning” toward running for re-election. The District 3 council seat will be up in April.
       Paige had called the meeting in hopes of getting feedback from the public on controversial issues. Other topics included city growth, Utilities rates and the possible Memorial Hospital sale.

Westside Pioneer article