Medical marijuana

Three storefronts is plenty for Cortez

The Cortez city council is considering an ordinance to limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Cortez and institute licensing requirements for them. The proposal has come out of an ad hoc committee studying the centers and issues related to them.

It’s about time, and it’s also consistent with what the state and federal governments are doing to regulate the business.

Two years ago, council member Tom Butler had moved to allow voters to weigh in on whether to allow dispensaries in town. His motion was voted down, and the council waited to see what kind of legislation the General Assembly would pass. As it turned out, legislators did little to clarify the picture.

A popular vote would have been a good thing. Citizens have the right to determine what their communities will tolerate. The majority could have said that the proliferation of pot shops was a fine thing, but that doesn’t seem likely. When Coloradoans approved medical marijuana in 2000 by a spread of 7.6 percent, Montezuma County residents opposed it by exactly twice that margin.

The constitutional amendment was promoted as a way for seriously ill patients who had exhausted conventional remedies to take advantage of marijuana’s alleged effects on nausea, glaucoma and a few other illnesses. Quite a few supporters saw it as a first step in legalizing a drug they believed was less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. But few imagined that, late in the decade, obtaining a medical marijuana card would become as easy as handing over $50 to a physician visiting town just for that purpose and the “medical” portion of the name would become a big joke.

Despite the 2000 vote, not much changed until 2009, when the Obama administration announced that federal prosecutors would not pursue medical marijuana patients in states that approve its use. Medical marijuana businesses sprang up like weed fields. The federal ban on marijuana, though not enforced, remained on the books, and late last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration reiterated that marijuana has no accepted use and the government would act against large-scale growing operations and, potentially, medical marijuana dispensaries. The first manifestation of that policy in Colorado has been to prohibit MMJ centers within 1,000 feet of schools.

The DEA is not terribly concerned with drug use by cancer patients, and it probably will not soon target caregivers with their limited numbers of patients, as long as it has more serious drug problems to fight. Still,Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Walsh’s office in Denver, told the AP last week it was not possible to answer whether a shop in compliance with state rules and regulations, and not located near a school, might still be raided.

City Attorney Mike Green has pointed out that the free market already seems to have dictated that three is an appropriate number. Medical marijuana turned out not to be the lucrative business that its proponents had hoped, given that there are cheaper sources for users not driven by serious medical needs.

In view of all that, why would Cortez want to continue the MMJ free-for-all? Limits and licensing parameters are not undue regulation; they are a reasonable response to what the medical marijuana business has become.