The Bustos brothers, Mark and Brian, are shutting down Sensitiva, Alamosa County's only medical marijuana dispensary, after ongoing frustrations with the county.
Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — After months of battling with the Alamosa County commissioners over their compliance with medical marijuana zoning regulations, the Bustos brothers decided to close Sensitiva’s doors for good on Friday.
Earlier this week, the commissioners rejected a proposed amendment, 2-1, which would have created a process to approve medical marijuana ordinance waivers. The ordinance includes a 1,000-foot state distance requirement from homes, schools, childcare facilities, parks, churches and other sites, and the dispensary is technically in violation.
Sensitiva, Alamosa County’s only medical marijuana dispensary that has been in business for three years, is located less than 1,000 feet from a residential area. Since Colorado House Bill 1284, the state legislation enforcing zoning regulations, was not signed into law until 2010, nearly a year after the dispensary opened, Brian Bustos thinks his business should be able to continue to operate under a grandfather clause in its present location without question.
“They (the commissioners) are making their own regulations and stipulations,” Brian said. “It is not fair. We should be able to be put exactly in the same spot where a liquor store is.”
The commissioners did not make a decision on Sensitiva’s pending application on Wednesday, but the brothers decided the following day they had no faith in local government, could no longer tolerate or afford the “nit-picking” and made arrangements to close up shop.
“We were up in the air (about closing),” Brian, 43, said in an interview yesterday afternoon in his broken down store. “When they (the commissioners) decided to make their decision, they decided to not stick to what the people wanted. The people voted for us to be here. Why are they imposing these regulations and stipulations when the people knew where we were before the election? Do we not stick out like a sore thumb? Come on. It is ridiculous.”
In the November 2010 election, Alamosa County voted 2,431 to 2,258 to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. This vote came only months after the house bill was signed into law, which includes a stipulation allowing municipalities the authority to issue exemptions to the zoning rules and another granting local governments the authority to prohibit the establishment of dispensaries in a community.
Subsequently, Alamosa County passed Amendment 64 this fall, 3,718 to 2,874.
Brian and his brother, Mark, 46, agreed the county was creating unnecessary problems for not only the medical marijuana business, but also its patients and the county’s economy.
“These people (nearby residents) had three years to have any say about us and they never did,” Brian said. “Why? Because I believe these people don’t care. There are people that live over here that are our patrons.”
Aside from being out of a job and almost $200,000 spent to open the business, pay for licensing and legal representation, the Bustos brothers are more concerned with the well-being of their 63 patients, about 25 percent of Alamosa County’s registered medical marijuana users, than their own livelihoods.
“Yes, this opens up the door to street deals,” Brian said. “At least it was controlled here and they felt safe. I have one lady that has cancer and she only comes here for the edibles. She never used to do marijuana, but she does it because it helps her with the throwing up from chemotherapy.”
Mark added, “I’m most concerned about the patients. Some people walk here and they won’t have access if it is pushed out into the county since there is no available space within five miles of Alamosa.”
Besides putting Brian and Mark in the unemployment line, three other Sensitiva employees are now without a job. Until recently, the dispensary was employing eight people and, at one point, 32 checks were on the payroll.
In addition, Sensitiva was paying the county around $2,000 monthly in taxes.
“That is the other thing that I don’t understand,” Brian said. “How can they say I am not doing them good? Now I have employees without jobs.”
In an attempt to understand why the county has targeted Sensitiva, a dispensary that has had no complaints from inspectors or problems with law enforcement, Brian said he thinks the county could have an issue with the building’s owner who owes $17,000 in taxes.
“I can understand them (the commissioners) being upset at the owner of this building,” Brian said. “I had people that were willing to help us pay the taxes. I am upset about the whole way they did this. They basically found a way to oust us. They can say all day long that it is not true, but my doors are closed thanks to them.”
Although they will no longer have their store on Highway 160, Brian said he intends to operate within the limits of the law and provide medical marijuana caregiving services.
“It, these decisions, are almost discriminatory,” he said. “I feel my rights and my patients’ rights have been violated. We have been constantly harassed. I am going to take care of them, my cancer patients that are 70 years old, as long as they are here.”