Even for a roomful of people in the nascent medical marijuana industry, what Larry Hill was proposing was a little unusual.
Standing before a meeting of cannabis dispensary owners here last week, Hill said the time has come to form a trade association.
"People, let's help ourselves," said Hill, who operates The Apothecary dispensary in Longmont. "It's time we become the shining light in the community, so that people aren't afraid of us anymore."
Across the state — as the number of medical marijuana dispensaries surges and local officials rush to enact laws governing them — cannabis business people have banded together so as to have a louder voice in the debate.
More than 100 people attended the meeting in Longmont last week at the VFW hall, which Hill hosted. A day before, medical marijuana attorney Rob Corry hosted a similar meeting in Denver. Corry said he is talking with around 50 dispensary owners about forming a statewide association.
The idea, the medical marijuana supporters say, is to find a way for the burgeoning industry to fill the current regulatory vacuum and perhaps stave off further governmental rules by regulating itself.
"If you wait for something to happen to you, it's going to happen to you," medical marijuana attorney Jeff Gard told the crowd in Longmont. "If you take control over something yourself, you have some ability to direct it."
But getting consensus on a public, self-governing structure among dispensary owners — some of whom are accustomed to operating quietly and have a well-honed wariness of authority — is no sure thing.
During the meeting in Longmont, Gard read a list of rules recently negotiated in Frisco that he said could serve as a start for the cannabis community's proposals for self-regulation. Those laws include things such as standard operating hours, uniform security measures and prescribed buffer zones between dispensaries and schools or day-care facilities.
A number of the regulations elicited grumbles in the crowd.
"When you start talking about regulations," said Kathleen Chippi, who operates Cannabis Healing Arts in Nederland, "you're continuing to buy into reefer madness lies. We don't need to be afraid of a dispensary."
Other advocates, while conceding the need for some self-government, took issue with particular proposals.
George Thomas, who operates a small caregiver business for about a dozen patients out of his Longmont home, said the buffer-zone regulations could force providers to constantly move.
"I don't want some day-care center operated by some mom down the street to kick me out of my house," he said.
No one knows exactly how many dispensaries operate in Colorado because they are neither licensed nor tracked by the state. Estimates put the number of dispensaries at as many as 100.
Hill said he thinks the threat of regulation facing dispensary owners will encourage them to get on the same page — but he also concedes it will be difficult to keep them there.
It's unclear how interested state lawmakers are in taking up the issue. Democratic and Republican aides at the Capitol said they haven't heard of any proposed bills to clarify medical marijuana regulations.
"In the giant scheme of things, with all the budget-cutting that's been taking place, it's really moved to a back-seat position," said state Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood.
Gov. Bill Ritter, meanwhile, has put state lawyers and health department officials to work examining how to handle the proliferation of dispensaries, Ritter's spokesman wrote in an e-mail.
While Ritter intends to uphold the state's constitutional protection of medical marijuana, he also "has an obligation to ensure the program is not being abused, not operating outside the law and not going unregulated," Evan Dreyer wrote.
All of that's fine by Hill, as long as those who run the dispensaries get a say.
"We want to remove the gray area from the medical marijuana industry," Hill told the dispensary owners last week. "It's up to us."
By John Ingold
October 4, 2009