Since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, under President Obama, announced in 2009 that the Justice Department would no longer spend federal money fighting medical marijuana dispensaries that have been established under state law, dispensary businesses have been popping up like weeds across the state.
To regulate that growth, the State House approved House Bill 1284 last May. Signed by Gov. Bill Ritter, it requires dispensaries to be licensed and monitored statewide – but also gives local governments the ability to ban them, if they wish. The bill creates a licensing process similar to what the state now uses for liquor licensing, and requires towns to produce ordinances dovetailing with the state statute – unless a town elects to totally ban medical marijuana dispensaries outright. In some instances like Montrose, Delta and Mesa counties, local governments put the question to voters, and in these three cases, voters decided to ban dispensaries outright in their unincorporated areas.
Because dispensaries were popping up so quickly, most local governments enacted moratoriums until a localized set of regulations could be drafted. The City of Ouray, which has seen some opposition to dispensaries, has a moratorium in effect until next year. In Ridgway, the town’s moratorium was lifted, but if a dispensary proprietor didn’t get his or her business license approved by June 30, 2010, they have to wait until July 2011 to receive a licensee under the new state regulations.
After a moratorium was lifted in the Town of Telluride with its own, newly drafted regulations in place, there were five dispensary operations thriving in Telluride. And with many of the surrounding areas still under moratoriums, or banning dispensaries, Telluride may have become a southwest Colorado hub for medical marijuana buyers.
The divisive medical marijuana issue will continue for some time. San Miguel County currently has seven dispensaries, five in Telluride; the city of Delta has one – at least until their moratorium expires, in May 2011; and Ridgway has a medical marijuana delivery service serving Ouray, San Miguel and Montrose counties. Of course, the future of medical marijuana dispensaries is uncertain. If President Obama isn’t reelected in 2012, the growth of dispensaries across the country may be all for naught.