Official details proposal for long-term rules on pot shops
Boulder's 80 or so medical-marijuana dispensaries might soon have to shell out $5,000 each to the city for new business licenses, install security equipment and limit their hours of operation.
Since November, Boulder has required the dozens of medical-marijuana dispensaries that have popped up in recent months to operate under an emergency set of rules that keep them from clustering together or doing business within 500 feet of a school or day care.
The rules were set up as a temporary fix to give planners time to craft long-term regulations for the budding industry. The Boulder Planning Board is scheduled to take up the permanent rules Thursday.
Complete details of the long-term rules were scheduled to be released by the city Friday, but officials said just before 5 p.m. that the ordinance wouldn't be made public until Monday.
But Kathy Haddock, the senior assistant to the Boulder city attorney who helped craft the rules, explained the key provisions.
She said the rules, as proposed, would establish a program to license dispensaries and growing operations. The process would require such businesses to apply for a "medical marijuana business license" at a cost of $5,000 -- $2,000 for an application and $3,000 for the license.
Businesses would have to renew the license each year at a cost of $3,000. Now, dispensaries and growing operations are only required to have a $25 sales-tax license.
"It will be very much like getting a liquor license," Haddock said.
Existing dispensaries would be required to apply for a license by Sept. 30 to stay open. The city stands to collect more than $400,000 in fees -- revenue that would be used in part to fund a position to administer the licenses.
Under the new rules, schools and day-care centers would continue to have 500-foot buffers from dispensaries, and new dispensaries wouldn't be able to open up in areas that already have three or more pot shops within a 500-foot area.
But dispensaries that now have sales-tax licenses would be allowed to stay where they are, regardless of how close they are to schools or one another, so long as they continue to do business under the same ownership.
"If they have a business license, this ordinance doesn't require them to move," Haddock said. "We do not believe that (the rules are) shutting down anybody who is operating under current law."
All dispensaries also would be required to install security cameras, safes to lock up drugs and cash and alarms that are wired to a monitored security service.
"We don't want money or drugs left out" overnight, Haddock said. "That's what's been attracting criminal stuff."
Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for Boulder police, said Police Chief Mark Beckner was involved in drafting the proposed rules. Requiring increased security at dispensaries, she said, was designed to make the businesses "less attractive to criminals."
"We are hopeful that those types of measures will help minimize some of the public safety concerns," Huntley said.
Even so, she said police "still have a lot of concerns" about dispensaries -- a handful of which have been the target of burglaries in recent months.
Hours of operation also would be limited under the new rules, allowing dispensaries to do business only from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Most dispensaries don't stay open later than 9 p.m. anyway, officials said.
The city would also change the zones where dispensaries are allowed to open. Under the emergency rules, the businesses were allowed in parts of the city where retail, professional offices or greenhouses are allowed.
The permanent rules would remove the professional-office zone as an area for dispensaries. But officials said that change likely wouldn't affect the existing dispensaries, or dramatically reduce the areas where such businesses are allowed.
All dispensaries would have to be in compliance with the new regulations by the end of December.
Jan Cole, owner of the Greenleaf Farm at 1644 Walnut St., said she thinks the suggested rules seem "reasonable."
"It sounds like they're being fair," she said of the city.
But Cole said her business -- open since November -- intentionally tried to predict what the city might eventually require. She already has a safe and a security system, and she said she doesn't mind paying a licensing fee.
"None of that affects me," she said. "We followed all the guidelines that we thought they would put into place."
She said she was surprised that the city didn't take up the more controversial issues surrounding dispensaries, such as the relationship between a caregiver and a patient.
Jody Jacobson, a city spokeswoman, said that was done intentionally.
"We didn't address those issues because we felt that the state should address them," she said.
Legislation being considered at the statehouse includes a bill that would require doctors to give medical-marijuana patients a physical exam and provide follow-up care. Those younger than 21 would need to get the approval of two doctors.
Jennifer Labrecque, owner of the New Options Wellness dispensary at 2885 Aurora Ave., said she also thinks the proposal is fair. But she's concerned with the cost of the annual license.
"That's a big chunk of money that you're going to be asked to come up with in short order, and maybe haven't planned for," she said.
She said some smaller dispensaries might not be able to afford the added expense -- which may ultimately drive down competition and the number of dispensaries in Boulder.
She said her business also has security in place, and she agreed that marijuana shops should be as safe as possible.
"The more crime that occurs around these businesses, the more negative opinion the public will have," she said. "I'm in support of anything that helps the industry have a good reputation."
The Planning Board will make a recommendation about the long-term rules to the City Council, which is scheduled to take up the matter on March 2 and March 16.
The council, however, is not bound by the Planning Board's decision.
February 12, 2010
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Boulder may require $5,000 medical-marijuana licenses for dispensaries