Medical Marijuana: A budding business comes to Berthoud

http://www.berthoudsurveyor.com/current/frontpage.pdf

Kathleen Donnelly
12/2/2009

Berthoud resident Linda Smoke watches her friends suffer everyday from cancer and multiple sclerosis. Their symptoms and pain were helped with the use of medical marijuana, but often the cost was outrageous and the quality left much to be desired.

Smoke decided she could do her part to help by opening a wellness center, along with her partner Mel Paulson, in Berthoud, that would not only provide medical marijuana, but massages, aromatherapy and nutraceuticals.

"My friends were paying a lot of money and having a hard time finding consistent quality," said Smoke. "I decided to open this dispensary because it's important for patients to purchase quality medications for a good price."

The decision comes as the debate over medical marijuana heats up. To really understand the debate you have to jump back in time to November of 2000. That year Coloradoans voted on Amendment 20 of the Colorado Constitution, legalizing medical marijuana. However, at that time Federal law over-rode state law, considering marijuana to be a Schedule 1 illegal drug.

Fast forward to 2009 when the Obama administration ruled not to have federal law enforcement agencies prosecute any medical marijuana business that was complying with state law in states that had voted to legalize medical marijuana. Smoke has studied the state law extensively to make sure her business will be in compliance.

"We'll really stay within the limits of the law and only dispense to patients that have the proper paperwork," said Smoke.

Even if Smoke complies with state regulations, other local business worry about where the dispensaries will be opening. One local business owner who wished to remain anonymous said, "If marijuana is so healthy then why not have pharmacists sell it and put in the dispensaries by the doctor's offices? I am concerned what it's going to do to my business and that it is located in between the schools."

Smoke's answer to the concerns about her business is to reassure residents that she is taking the proper steps to create a safe business.

"We want to be a good neighbor in the town of Berthoud. In fact, we have done things like join the Better Business Bureau," said Smoke. "We would never sell to any school-age children. In order for someone under the age of 18 to receive a card they must have consent from both parents, two doctors and the state. We are mothers, fathers, and grandparents. WE don't want to see marijuana in the schools either."

Smoke is currently receiving bids from security companies ot help keep her store safe. She has also gone through the proper steps to get permits for her company.

Interim Town Administrator Gary Suiter commented on the fact that so far, unlike Loveland, Berthoud has decided not to put a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

"We are watching this issue and paying attention to it," said Suiter. "Our approach is to be patient and allow the state to figure it out first. We want to take a rational and reasonable approach and not panic or overreact."

Suiter explained that while the marijuana debate has many social issues, for Berthoud, when the issue was brought to the board it was simply a planning and zoning issue.

"This is a land use issue for us," said Suiter. "Of course this is not a use listed in most zoning books, and we need to find a place where it would be compatible."

Larimer County may be able to help Berthoud in the land use process. The county is requesting a moratorium from the county commissioners for medical marijuana businesses. This will help the county to determine how to regulate the medical marijuana dispensaries as a land use. Larimer county reports that there are over 40 accessible dispensaries in the county, along with over 1,200 registered patients.

Until then, Smoke plans on opening her store in December, with an official grand opening Jan. 2. She stresses that residents should keep in mind that she will be offering much more than medical marijuana.

"We are a wellness center and will have a retired nurse and certified massage therapist on staff," said Smoke. "A lot of patients fighting illnesses just need someone to talk to. We have a relationship with our patients. I'm doing this to help them out."

Next week the Surveyor will give the law enforcement side of the medical marijuana issue.