Municipalities Scramble to Regulate and Capitalize in New Business Rush
Since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last February that the Justice Department will no longer spend federal money busting medical marijuana dispensaries established legally under state law, a new kind of gold rush is on to open medical marijuana dispensaries in the 13 states that have legalized it, including Colorado - and its Western Slope.
Along with Olathe’s newly opened T.H.C with T.L.C, at least four new dispensaries have opened in Grand Junction, three in Durango, one in Aspen, one in Glenwood Springs and a dispensary may open in Placerville, near Telluride.
Fifty-three percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 20 in November 2000. The amendment approved the use of medical marijuana as an effective medicine for people with “debilitating medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS” and for treating conditions such as “cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures characteristic of epilepsy, muscle spasms characteristic of multiple sclerosis” and other medical conditions approved by the state. It permits the possession of up to two ounces and the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for medical use.
While Amendment 20 made the use of medical marijuana legal in Colorado, it remained illegal at the federal level.
But with Holder’s announcement of this significant change in policy from the Bush Administration regarding medical marijuana, dispensaries are now open for business for patients seeking pot as a treatment for their illnesses.
“We have been open for about three weeks and we now have 65 totally legit patients,” Kathy Dischler, a volunteer at T.H.C. with T.L.C., said on Tuesday, standing behind the front desk of the dispensary. “Every day we get at least two or three more patients.”
Located at 519 Highway 50 Business Loop in Olathe, T.H.C with T.L.C. is housed in the skeleton of an old service station with fitted bars on all the windows. When you approach the business, you are greeted at the door by Manager Tim Norris who simply asks, “Are you here to see Bill?”
Bill (William) Hewitt, is the owner and founder of T.H.C with T.L.C. Hewitt was unavailable for an interview, due to a serious illness in the family. Confirming that the marijuana patient this reporter accompanied was there to see Hewitt, we were admitted into the office of the dispensary where Dischler and her husband Doug make sure patients have all the proper state documentation to prove their status as a medical marijuana cardholder in Colorado.
The office is small and cluttered with informational pamphlets, newspapers and a white wall covered in colorful signatures of those who support the business and the care it provides to patients who need its services.
“The key to this whole thing is to make sure the paperwork is organized and done properly,” Dischler said, making copies of a patient’s documentation. Without the proper documents, this desk is the end of the line. Patients with the necessary paperwork, however, gain entrance to the next waiting room, which features displays of various forms of pipes and paraphernalia - a sanctuary where patients relax while awaiting their turn with Hewitt.
Once Hewitt is available, the patient is brought into the third room - the “green room” - to select the preferred form of marijuana (edibles, strains, etc.) and, finally, make a purchase.
Dischler says Hewitt is doing everything he can to keep the marijuana affordable; one- eighth of an ounce costs a relatively reasonable $40.
“He is going to keep it at that,” said Dischler. “He really wants to keep the price low. Everybody else is going up in price, but he does everything he can to keep it so patients who need it can afford it.”
Dischler herself uses marijuana to treat chronic and acute pancreatitis.
“It keeps me out of the emergency room,” she said. “It is the most helpful and least lethal treatment for me.” Since she began volunteering at the dispensary, she said, many sick people have come in, looking for treatment.
“There is one man,” she said, “we have to go and help him out of the car because he is so ill. We have one person in our records who is 18 years old; he is a very sick kid. It seems people are getting sicker at younger ages. It’s great to be able to help those who need help.”
While business proprietors like Hewitt rush to open the doors to new medical marijuana dispensaries, local governments scramble to come up with regulations for these brand-new business ventures.
On Monday, the Town of Telluride joined a long list of municipalities, including Montrose, Durango and Basalt, that have moved to enact moratoriums on the issuance of building permits and licenses to dispensaries, to give local governments a chance to catch up with the federal deregulation. At the Telluride meeting, San Miguel County Planner Mike Rozycki confirmed that his department has already received an application for a medical marijuana dispensary in nearby Placerville.
And while Councilmember Thom Carnevale may have been joking when he suggested that maybe there’s an opportunity for “a Town of Telluride-run dispensary” that “could be a source of income for the community,” the idea may not be quite so ludicrous as it sounds, with rapidly emptying municipal coffers. Even the tiny Town of Ophir, south of Telluride, will decide next week whether or not to investigate the possibility of becoming the State of Colorado’s first municipality to grow medical marijuana, reports The Denver Post. As proposed, profits from a town-owned dispensary would make up for dwindling tax revenues.
“It might get us through hard times in a liberal town,” Ophir Mayor Randy Barnes told The Post.
“But,” he added, “I don't want to target our community as being crazy.”
No, but at an altitude of 9,600 feet, it’s definitely high.
by Gus Jarvis
October 15, 2009