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Medical marijuana ordinance change rejected

Posted: Thursday, Dec 6th, 2012

Mark Bustos, who operates a medical marijuana dispensary with his brother, urged Alamosa County commissioners to go easy on existing dispensaries that might not comply with current regulations. Courier photo by Rudy Herndon

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — If someone wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary within, say, 999 feet of a residential area, a majority of Alamosa County Commissioners agree that person could ask the board for a variance from current regulations.

For that reason, the same majority on Wednesday rejected a proposed amendment that would have outlined the process to approve a waiver from the county’s medical marijuana ordinance. Commissioner Michael Yohn supported the proposal, while Darius Allen and George Wilkinson opposed it.

As it’s currently written, the ordinance restricts medical marijuana dispensaries to commercial county zones that are at least 1,000 feet away from homes, schools, childcare facilities, parks and churches, among other sites. It also relegates medical marijuana growing operations to agricultural areas.

Alamosa County Attorney Jason Kelly told the board that the additional language at issue would have given commissioners the explicit authority to waive the minimum 1,000-foot requirement and other requirements in the ordinance on a case-by-case basis.

But Allen said he believes the board already has that power, and voiced satisfaction with the status quo.

“I guess I would just be inclined to leave it as it is and move on that way,” Allen said.

Wilkinson added, “I think we have the opportunity to do this now.”

Yohn, for one, agreed with Kelly’s interpretation of the proposed language.

But audience member Robert Copley said he saw no reason to allow a change for something that remains a violation of federal law. He added there are properties that can be purchased in areas that comply with the county’s ordinance without waiving its requirements.

“We would certainly be very opposed to having this sort of facility in our neighborhood,” he said.

Likewise, Debbie Garrison voiced concerns that one proposed dispensary would have been located within close proximity to her home and business. She said where a medical marijuana facility was proposed to be located would have been between two family businesses, and her grandchild often came to work with her so she was very concerned about such a business next door.

She learned at the public hearing on Wednesday that the application for a marijuana facility near her business had been withdrawn.

While Garrison and Copley opposed the amendment outright, the proposal drew mixed reactions from dispensary owners in the Valley.

Adrian Maestas said he is not opposed to the idea of a variance from the 1,000-foot minimum, provided that it’s within reason.

But he expressed concerns that a 200-foot variance would be unfair to someone who has gone to the expense of complying with the current ordinance.

“It’s a large investment for us,” he said.

He added, “there has to be limits … Some of these things need to be set in stone.”

Mark Bustos, who runs Sensitiva Holistic Therapeutics in East Alamosa with his brother Brian, had the opposite reaction.

“I would say that (you should not) be so strict — especially to existing businesses,” he said.

While their business is closer than the 1,000-foot requirement from a residential area in East Alamosa, Mark Bustos said he and his brother have had no problems to date. He said when they opened their business there was no distance requirement in place.

In their case, an eight-foot-tall fence stands between Sensitiva and nearby homes in the area, he said.

Brian Bustos said, “I am just trying to keep my business open.”

They have a pending application before the board.

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