A marijuana enthusiast shows off a container of wax made in Wheat Ridge at the High Times Cannabis Cup at the Exdo Center in Denver on April 21, 2013. (Denve Post file)

Residents pack Wheat Ridge meeting in debate over city regulations

WHEAT RIDGE — It was standing room only Monday night at Wheat Ridge council chambers as hundreds of residents packed an overflow room, loitered in hallways and stood against back walls to hear what the city plans to do about the local marijuana industry.

Many had shown up after hearing false rumors about a potential marijuana grow house on 38th Avenue and Miller Street.

The location met all zoning requirements but drew the ire of residents because it would have been in a high-traffic area frequented by students.

“I’m a proud person who loves to trailblaze and be one of the pioneers in a new industry,” said Chronic Therapy dispensary owner Sandy Bedard, mentioning the 23 people her company employs. “Entrepreneurs such as myself can normally only dream of such an opportunity I get to live today.”

Citizen concerns about marijuana’s proximity to schools, safety issues and odor complaints prompted what Mayor Joyce Jay said was a need for a second look at zoning regulations.

A 90-day moratorium on new marijuana applications has been in place since Aug. 18.

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Current Wheat Ridge regulations require pot shops to be located at least 1,000 feet away from a school, residential child care facilities, drug treatment facilities or a college, university or seminary. They’re also required to be ¾ of a mile away from each other.

Wheat Ridge has a total of five dispensaries and retail stores.

Marijuana opponents packed the special study session Monday night as council heard comments from residents on both sides of the issue.

Proponents talked about job creation, use of marijuana to treat pain, a regulated market and civic pride.

Others spoke of negative health impacts, the city’s image and use among youth.

“As far as taxes go, as an educator I don’t want drug money,” said former Lakewood High School Principal Ron Castagna. “It’s not worth it; I’ve watched kids die over this stuff.”

Last month, council directed city staff to craft a series of regulatory options to address concerns surrounding marijuana operations in the city.

Options include creating a special-use permit so proposed new marijuana businesses would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and weighed against an eight-point checklist.

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The prohibition of marijuana vending machines, further separation requirements between businesses, building code modifications and beefed up enforcement of regulations around marijuana advertising — including prohibition of sign spinners and balloons — were also suggested as needing further study.

Future talks of outright bans came up, as well, with council debating the pros and cons of banning all businesses or allowing existing ones to stay with the option to sell their stores.

“I don’t think that’s ethical or fair,” said District 1 Councilman Jerry DiTullio on shutting down existing businesses.

District II Councilwoman Kristi Davis countered a comment by another council member who said Wheat Ridge needs to stop the entire industry and study things further.

“Staff has vocalized in many ways there may be room for maybe one more business based on buffer zones,” Davis said. “So there’s not like there’s going to be 17 more coming into our community.”

Council suggested extending the moratorium on new applications through February 2014; the issues will be further discussed at council meetings on Oct. 13 and 27.

Austin Briggs: 303-954-1729, abriggs@denverpost.com or twitter.com/abriggs

This story was first published on DenverPost.com