Medical marijuana has made its way to South Jeffco.
Despite a lack of zoning regulations that would allow their legal existence, pot dispensaries have recently sprouted intermittently in unincorporated Jefferson County.
A few such businesses have ceased their marijuana-distribution operations after being cited for zoning violations, but at least one dispensary has remained open for more than two months.
“There are a lot of people out there who truly are in need and want something they can feel comfortable using,” said Mark, the owner of the operating dispensary, who was not comfortable divulging his last name. “They don’t have to go underground, so to speak. … And that helps them.”
Unlike the bold storefronts along Broadway in Denver, Mark’s shop lacks the flair that would overtly identify it to passers-by as a place to pick up marijuana varieties such as Super Silver Haze and Grand Daddy Purple. And were it not for the stack of High Times magazines and marijuana cookbooks on a coffee table, it could be difficult to discern the entrance from a doctor-office waiting room.
“Part of my goal is to help educate the public,” Mark said. “There is a medical need for this. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. And I hope the way we’ve set up our place will be a little more professional, a little more open, respectful of the community — not having the pot leaves on the front and the neon signs.”
Mark’s dispensary offers loose marijuana for smoking, edible-pot products such as cookies and peanut butter cups, and tinctures, which are concentrated solutions of THC in natural oil. All of the marijuana products are available only to card-carrying members of Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Registry.
“They sell a lot of pre-rolled joints, actually, for $5. When I’m strapped for cash, I really don’t spend a whole lot,” said South Jeffco resident Ben Stegman, who said he found the dispensary when walking to a local bar. He visits the shop almost every day, he said, to get marijuana that helps to ease his migraines and body pains.
“I have a lot of really serious back pains from football and wrestling throughout high school,” Stegman said.
Despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal in the state, officials say ambiguously worded legislation and a lack of zoning regulations make policing dispensaries’ activity difficult.
“Amendment (20) was written with very many ambiguities and very few guidelines for law enforcement,” said Jeffco District Attorney Scott Storey. “The constitutional amendment never really contemplated, I believe, dispensaries.”
Part of the difficulty in determining legalities is that it is nearly impossible to determine how many marijuana plants a dispensary is allowed to possess. Dispensaries are allowed to have a specific number of plants per patient, but exceptions can be made when it is “medically necessary” for more plants to be allotted to certain patients. And even trying to determine how many patients a dispensary serves can be difficult, Storey said.
“There’s no way to really track that,” he said.
Police are hesitant to confiscate plants, since they could end up responsible for losses if plants die in their custody if it is later determined that the dispensary was operating within its limit, he said.
“Hopefully the legislature will give us some guidance … without compromising the intent of the amendment,” Storey said. “Let the people weigh in,” he suggested. “Do they want dispensaries?”
Jeffco may soon have a moratorium on dispensary operations. Zoning represents the county’s sole means of regulation for the medical marijuana industry, and zoning rules don’t currently contain any information to permit dispensary operations, said County Commissioner Kathy Hartman.
“It is going to be on the agenda Tuesday,” Hartman said of a motion to vote on a moratorium at the Jan. 12 commission meeting. “It is not within our zoning resolutions … if it is an allowed activity.
“Our legal staff has authorized us that we need to do more than that. … Cities hand out business licenses. We don’t. … That’s our only regulatory power.”
Public input on the issue has been limited so far, she said.
“I’ve heard very little. I’ve heard nothing from citizens,” she said. “I’ve heard from the sheriff, who is not happy,” she added, about the ambiguity of legislation surrounding caregivers and dispensaries.
Currently some businesses are getting zoning-violation notices. A local chiropractic office in South Jeffco stopped selling marijuana about two weeks ago after receiving a notice.
Though Mark is aware of Jeffco’s zoning issues, he is running his business as usual on the advice of his lawyer, he said.
“I’ve not had anybody who’s been angry or (who’s) said anything bad about us,” he said about people sometimes wandering into his shop to inquire about the medical-marijuana business. “A lot more people are just wanting to know — they hear about it every day in the news.”
A few hundred patients have come through Mark’s door, and he has about 30 regular customers, he said. South Jeffco is underserved for people who don’t want to drive to Denver, he said.
“I didn’t like driving all the way downtown. And I like this area,” he said, noting that he was a patient himself before contemplating opening a shop in South Jeffco. Prior to his current venture, he worked in the computer industry, he said.
“We’re in it for the long term. Who knows what’ll happen? The government may decide that they don’t want us here.”