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Fort Collins Dispensary Owners Ponder What’s Next

Grace Hood

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries owners in Fort Collins are evaluating their next steps after voters this week banned their businesses from operating within city limits. After the final election results are certified they’ll have 90 days to close their storefronts. And some are hoping to stay open, albeit with a slightly different focus.

Right now there are a lot of questions, and not many answers. Since the ban passed, Dave Watson, owner of Kind Care of Colorado, says his clients have been asking him what’s next.

“[It’s] business as usual,” he says. “We’re going to keep pushing until the end and find the best alternative for the patients.”

Like other dispensary owners in Fort Collins, Watson says he’s considering a transition to focus more on caregiver services. And he’s hoping to stay in his current location.

“We have large group of patient files. Everyone will get information about what’s happening next. We’re not going to be leaving anyone out on the streets,” he says.

The ban, which appeared as Question 300 on the ballot, puts the city in line with other Northern Colorado locations like Windsor, Longmont and Loveland. State lawmakers gave cities and counties the ability to decide whether or not they want to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities last year.

Opponents narrowly lost their fight despite support from the state’s largest union, Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 7. On election night, proponent and former mayor Ray Martinez said he thought there were a couple arguments that resonated with voters.

“Everyone realizes that this is against the law and the state can’t supersede the feds,” he said. “The second thing is this does not affect people using medicinal marijuana, who are in bad shape and need it for health.”

Throughout the debate, both sides discussed what the impact of the ban would be on patients. Interim Police chief Jerry Schiager says it’s true that they’ll continue to have access to medical marijuana in Fort Collins, and by law can cultivate up to 12 plants—6 mature and 6 immature—in residential areas.

Schiager says one of the main questions right now is how the city would regulate dispensaries that choose to transition into more of a caregiver role—if that’s even legal. He says police are currently looking into the details.

“In my mind, that’s the biggest public safety issue is people growing large numbers of plants and have these businesses running in residential areas,” he says. “We’ve had problems in the past--some violent robberies in neighborhoods--that we didn’t have any idea activity was going on in.”

The city kept this in check when it licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the past by applying zoning restrictions. For dispensary owners like Dave Watson, Fort Collins police don’t know right now whether he could continue to operate in the same location as a caregiver. Watson says he’ll be meeting with his attorney in the coming days to sketch out a full picture of his options.

“I think I’m set up ok. Hopefully we’re going to move right into our new model and not miss a beat,” he says.

The clock starts ticking for both sides once the city certifies election results next week.