82 dispensaries, growing operations close to maxing out available space under rules
Boulder already may be running out of room for medical-marijuana businesses.
In mapping out the 82 medical-marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries now licensed in Boulder, city officials say even relatively loose permanent regulations would mean the industry has nearly reached its saturation point.
The city expects to take up permanent regulations in February and March.
In November, the City Council enacted emergency rules outlining where dispensaries can operate, requiring new shops to stay at least 500 feet away from areas with three or more existing marijuana businesses, and 500 feet away from schools and day-care centers.
"It appears that most areas in the city's three major activity centers (University Hill, Boulder Valley Regional Center and downtown Boulder) are approaching saturation," a city memo reads. "North Boulder and industrial areas in the eastern portion of the city have also seen an increase in the number of applications and are nearing saturation."
City officials say the short-term regulations have put a halt to dispensaries and growing operations lining the streets one after another, but the rules don't affect the 63 businesses that applied for sales-tax licenses before Nov. 6. Those businesses -- some of which are clustered in areas downtown and on University Hill -- would likely be allowed to stay where they are under permanent regulations.
The new map compiled by the city shows that room is running out in the main business corridors. Because the temporary rules also prohibit dispensaries from operating in residential areas, there are few choice locations left.
"The interim regulations are achieving the goal of ensuring that we don't have an over-concentration" of dispensaries, said David Driskell, Boulder's executive director of community planning and sustainability. "There's no more room in certain areas."
Boulder received the bulk of its applications for medical-marijuana businesses late last year, after decisions at the state and federal levels made it easier for them to open and operate.
If Boulder were to adopt rules similar to those approved earlier this week by the Denver City Council -- which outlined a 1,000-foot buffer between medical marijuana shops -- there would virtually be no additional shops allowed on University Hill or along the Pearl Street Mall. There is also a fast-shrinking availability of space around the 28th Street corridor and in northwest Boulder.
No decisions have been reached about how big of a buffer Boulder should have, but it will be part of the discussion when the Boulder Planning Board takes up the matter next month, Driskell said.
The city also is relying on feedback from the public as it forms long-term rules. Just a few days after posting a survey online asking for input, at least 90 people have logged their thoughts.
Boulder officials declined to provide copies of the feedback, saying they are part of a work product.
Pierre Werner, owner of the DrReefer.com dispensary, at 1121 Broadway on University Hill, said the city would unfairly be restricting competition -- or business expansion -- by permanently imposing minimum distances between shops.
"I think it limits competition, and it limits patients' choice," Werner said. "I believe in competition and the American enterprise -- entrepreneurs. I'd rather it go that way than have the government tell you, 'No, you can't open a dispensary within 500 feet, but in 501 feet you can sell all the medical marijuana you want."
Werner said he has the largest dispensary in Boulder, at 3,000 square feet. But he still wants to expand, and he's worried that if the city does leave spacing restrictions in place, he'll have to wait for other businesses to shut down or move.
"I'm hoping to just take over whenever someone leaves the building," he said.
By Heath Urie
January 15, 2010