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El Paso County Colorado District 49

MMJ dispensary proliferation

Amendment 20 was passed by Colorado voters in 2000. It calls for the use of Medical Marijuana (MMJ) by individuals with “debilitating medical conditions” who have received an MMJ card through the state health department. It was designed to deliver the drug through a caregiver model, allowing a caregiver to provide MMJ to a very limited number of “patients.” It also allows a patient to grow their own personal supply of MMJ.For years, this model worked well and provided MMJ for about 4,000 patients statewide. In 2008, however, the Obama administration declared that within states with MMJ laws, there would no longer be any federal enforcement of marijuana laws. The laws were not changed, but federal enforcement was simply to be ignored. Add to this an appellate court decision, which essentially said that the omission of a definition or even mention of dispensaries within Amendment 20 meant that they must be legal; and suddenly the number of MMJ card applications skyrocketed to over 100,000 today. Also skyrocketing over the last two years is the number of dispensaries, large-scale grow operations and infused products operations.At issue, then, is what our state and local governments are to do with this proliferation. Here in El Paso County, we passed temporary land use regulations in December in an effort to control the location of these operations, while we waited for the Legislature to grapple with the loopholes. After months of work during this last legislative session, House Bill 1284 was passed, which gave local governments the ability to deal with this proliferation within their own communities. It was a local control solution and granted broad authority over the dispensaries, grows and infused product operations. This authority includes everything from allowing liberal proliferation to a referred ballot question to an outright ban.I want to strongly emphasize that within the authority we were given, none of it includes any limitation of access to MMJ through the caregiver model. That access is constitutionally protected, and, as constitutional officers, we will protect that access.After hours of legal discussions, public hearings, work sessions, meetings with numerous individuals on both sides of this argument and copious study, it is my strong belief that Amendment 20 did not intend for the proliferation of these dispensaries as we see them today. Advocates of the dispensaries have admitted that we are essentially dealing with legalized marijuana due to the loopholes, and they want us to allow that to continue.However, in 2006, the voters of Colorado further defined their intentions by overwhelmingly defeating a ballot proposal to legalize just an ounce of marijuana. Through this, the people made clear their intention to allow MMJ for only those with “debilitating medical conditions” under the caregiver model and not for legalized marijuana. And yet today, we have over 450 MMJ operations throughout El Paso County with more and more being prepared for operation.The two factors that have consistently been shown to increase usage of this drug are access and acceptability, especially among our youth. Combine these with concerns about crime, and you have a snapshot of the reasons people are increasingly contacting my office asking for something to be done.The advocates for dispensary proliferation believe that any limitation of this legalization trend constitutes an attack on their constitutional rights and that we as elected officials have no right to consider limitation. Yet, they forget that MMJ access under Amendment 20 is a separate issue from dispensaries, grows and infusions. They also forget that we represent ALL citizens of this county, and that a majority of people, at least in my office, are calling for this activity to cease.This issue originated on the ballot in 2000 with a slim majority of Colorado voters approving medical marijuana under a caregiver model. It was further defined on the ballot by the people of the state in 2006 when they overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of even an ounce of marijuana. What better solution to the current controversy, then, but to go back to the ballot and ask the people to finally clarify their intent. It is for these reasons and because so many of my constituents are asking us to refer this question to the ballot for their consideration that I believe a ballot question is the right course of action for us to take as the representatives of the citizens of El Paso County.If the people say dispensaries, grows and infusion operations are acceptable, we will regulate them through licensing and land use and control their proliferation within the county. If the people say no, then we will go back to the caregiver model prescribed within Amendment 20, which has worked for several years.I serve and trust you, the people of El Paso County. I will defer to your direction and desires for our great county.Amy LathenVice ChairEl Paso County Commissioner, District 2719-520-6412

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