But in a special election in November spearheaded by medical marijuana opponents, Fort Collins residents voted to ban dispensaries and grow operations in the city.
One of those opponents is Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, who was one of the representatives of the petition effort that jump-started the special election. Smith says the original amendment to the state constitution legalizing medicinal use of marijuana made no provisions for commercial dispensaries. Additionally, he says that as sheriff, he’s witnessed first-hand the impact dispensaries have had on the community, including an increase in DUI arrests and drug-related violent crime.
“We saw things happen in our community that didn’t happen here before,” Smith says. “The school district expressed concerns that they had seen a three-fold increase in kids getting expelled or suspended for drug-related activity. There was about a 50 percent increase in attempted robberies and burglaries at [dispensary-area] locations in a two-year period. It was obvious that the net impact was negative on the community.”
Brown disputes the statistics medical marijuana opponents presented and believes the vote should have been included in the general election rather than a special election. “I know they can’t deny the people, but you would think the city council would say, ‘Look, we just worked on this for a year to implement all these rules and regulations, these guys just spent all this money, let’s give this a little bit of time to see how all this works. Let’s monitor it, let’s see what the crime rate really does.’ But they didn’t.”
In New Jersey, which legalized medical marijuana in January 2010, some advocates have complained that the vetting process for approving dispensaries is taking too long. In March, the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, selected six nonprofit entities to operate alternative treatment centers. The program was supposed to be up and running by the end of the year. No facility has opened so far.
Donna Leusner, a DHSS spokesman, said in an e-mail response that the state is working to ensure that dispensaries are approved in a manner that’s both timely and secure.
“The overarching goal of the state is to establish a secure network of alternative treatment centers,” she says. “The reality is that implementing a program to grow and dispense a controlled dangerous substance is complex with unique challenges.”
Despite the legal and logistical challenges, Horner says he’s not concerned about the future viability of his business.
“The only people they’re really going after are the people they can get secondary charges on,” he says. “They’re not going after the average person who’s following all the rules correctly.”
MedMaRax’s Ream, however, is less confident. “We know that at any moment, we could be shut down, even though the people of this town, and the city council, and the licensing board [approve]. We know we could be toast tomorrow, and our patients would be [out of luck].”
For others looking to enter the dispensary business, Brown recommends conducting extensive research about your local community.
“Find out what the laws are, find out who you’re dealing with in your city council,” he says. “Find out who politically is in your town and how they feel. Really get your groundwork done before you go and open up a place, because you can be in a situation like me where you basically have five individuals who can’t stand marijuana, and it can destroy you.”
Despite the recent Fort Collins vote, Abundant Healing is grandfathered into the city’s system and continues to operate. Brown and other local medical marijuana advocates hope to include an initiative on the city ballot in the 2012 elections.
“It’s not over yet,” Brown says. “We’re not giving up. We’re not just going to roll over.”