Monday, December 28, 2009

Pot dispensaries forced to shut down await court ruling

Source: Denver Post

About 99.9 percent of her business comes from the sale of medical marijuana, but Amber Ostrom, owner of Plants 4 Life, will have to make do selling acupuncture and other services.

The medical-marijuana dispensary in downtown Castle Rock was shut down by the town after officials said selling weed is illegal under federal law.

Town Clerk Sally Misare issued her decision Dec. 19, revising the business and tax license of the store to exclude the sale of medical marijuana.

Ostrom can still offer acupuncture, message therapy and holistic medicine at the store on North Wilcox Street.

But not having a chance to build a clientele for the wellness services since opening in mid-October, Ostrom worries that her $30,000 investment could be lost forever. She acknowledges that almost all of her sales had come from Denver medicinal marijuana.

"You can't just issue things left and right, then just take them away," Ostrom said. "I thought things would go in our favor. It's a clean facility and run like a doctor's office."

Ostrom and other Colorado marijuana dispensaries that have been shut down may get a court ruling this week that could have a big say in their futures.

In October, Centennial shut down the CannaMart dispensary, so CannaMart sued. An Arapahoe County District Court Judge is expected to rule in the case Wednesday.

Ostrom said she too is considering appealing the ruling in district court.

The town council in November instructed the Castle Rock's town manager to enforce codes already on the books that prohibited anything that was illegal under federal or state law.

"We didn't outlaw medical-marijuana dispensaries or put a ban," Castle Rock Mayor Randy Reed said.

"We just recognized in our code that we're not supposed to do that."

He was not sure why the town granted the license to Plants 4 Life in the first place. Another medical-marijuana facility also was granted a license, but that business has since left town.

Colorado voters in 2000 approved an amendment to the state constitution that allowed caregivers to provide medical marijuana to patients who suffered from specific debilitating medical conditions. The recipients are required to obtain a state-issued registry card.

But in July, the state health board considered, but decided against, limiting to five the number of patients a caregiver could provide for. On Oct. 19, the U.S. Department of Justice told prosecutors it would not seek to arrest medical-marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws.

Those rules resulted in a flood of business permit requests in municipalities statewide.

Since then, city and county governments have voted to freeze applications for new dispensaries and close down others while they await guidance from the state on how to regulate them.

"I think everyone is looking for guidance," Reed said. "All of a sudden, wham, bam, these things could go anywhere and operate 2 4/7."

For Ostrom, the revision in her license is a huge hit to her bottom lime.

She had about 140 "frequent shoppers" since Plants 4 Life opened and was getting five to 10 new customers a week.

"We were on the verge of breaking out," Ostrom said.

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