5:00am

Mon February 13, 2012
Health

Fort Collins Dispensaries Count Down to Feb. 14 Ban

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Fort Collins are making last-minute sales in advance of a ban that’s set to take place tomorrow night at 7 p.m. An attempt by business owners to temporarily halt the voter-approved law from going into effect failed in court last week.

Each of the city’s roughly 20 dispensaries will be inspected on or before Tuesday’s deadline by Fort Collins police before being shut down. The idea is to ensure that any remaining product is either sold or handed over to authorities for destruction.

So far, Sergeant Jim Byrne says he’s been pleasantly surprised by his interactions with business owners.

“The very first inspection we went to in early January, the business turned over about eight pounds of finished product, which is a significant amount of marijuana,” he says.

Byrne says there is an incentive for the owners to cooperate. If they want to move their license to another city, they have to leave Fort Collins in good standing.

“Although we haven’t gotten anything but total cooperation, I do believe that that’s a carrot and businesses understand that just like if they were any other business that wanted to move and needed sanctioning from another jurisdiction,” he says.

Tomorrow Fort Collins will join a growing list of more than 80 communities banning medical marijuana dispensaries. The move comes more than a decade after voters approved a statewide ballot measure allowing the use of medical marijuana to treat certain conditions.

Moving on

At Infinite Wellness Center, just south of Old Town, General Manager Cristine Romarine says she’s planning on moving her business to Lakewood. She’s hoping that incentives like reimbursing patients $20 for gas will persuade them to make the trip.

“Our unique situation is that we get to transfer this license to Lakewood so our patients come with us, which is good,” she says. “Not having to start over with a patient count is huge.”

Even still, Romarine says many customers have been making a lot of last minute purchases.

 One of those people is Devon McConnell, who uses medical marijuana to treat scoliosis and a fractured tailbone. She’s concerned about how the black market will expand to fill the void that's left behind by dispensaries.

“They’re going to start booming again because there’s nowhere else to get it,” she says. “So I’m really worried about that.”

After Tuesday, patients like McConnell will still have access to two medical marijuana businesses that operate outside city limits in Larimer County.

But David Schwaab, co-owner of Abundant Healing, says he’s worried about where patients will buy their medicine. While they can appoint an individual caregiver to grow medical marijuana in Fort Collins, Schwaab says the experience will change.

“One of the things that centers did was allow people to meet and congregate and learn from each other and help each other out,” he says. “That will be gone.”

Schwaab says he’s invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and he’s not sure what’s next for him. Other dispensary owners that didn’t want to be interviewed on tape say they plan to transition to a caregiver role.

The question of how that works still needs to be decided by the Fort Collins City Council. Right now city law allows caregivers to grow up to 12 plants in a single family home. But it says nothing about how many plants can be grown in a multi-family residence. Meantime, state law puts the limits at 30 plants maximum for caregivers.

Fort Collins Police Sergeant Jim Byrne says despite the ban, there will continue to be gray areas when it comes to enforcing the law around marijuana. For example, busting a large grow operation isn’t as clear cut as it used to be.

“A lot of the attorneys are a little hesitant to move forward on cases traditionally we would have because the person has thrown out a medical marijuana card,” he says.

And things could become even more complicated for law enforcement this fall if Coloradans approve one of at least two ballot measures seeking to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.