Jan 182012
Authors: Jason Pohl

Steve Ackerman isn’t sure what the new year has in store for him.

All he knows is Feb. 14, he is going out of business and losing his way of life.

Ackerman is the owner of Organic Alternatives, one of Fort Collins’ 20 medical marijuana dispensaries being forced to shut down after voters passed Question 300 during the November special election. The polarizing decision gave dispensaries 90 days to close up shop in compliance with the new measure, following in the steps of numerous other decisions across the state.

Now he finds himself hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

“It’s not happy,” Ackerman said while expressing dismay about what to do next. “We’re taking apart something we put together here. Now our patients are trying to figure out where to get their medicine.”

But the dispensary shutdown is happy news for supporters of the ban, collectively titled the Concerned Fort Collins Citizens. The group gathered momentum in the months leading up to the decision and ultimately won by 4 percent – just 1,471 votes.

Led by former Fort Collins Mayor Ray Martinez, among others, those who want dispensaries gone are overseeing the city’s involvement is quick and compliant.

“We’re sticking to our principles first and foremost,” Martinez said.

He added that, throughout the process, he has wanted to make sure the people’s decision is upheld to the fullest extent indicated during the election.

“We’ll be watching,” he said. “I think we’re a watchful eye for the public.”

Supporters, including Martinez, maintained throughout the election that dispensaries were operating illegally and claimed crime rates increased and marijuana was making its way deeper and deeper into the local schools thanks to the dispensary model.

Supporters also said they weren’t against pot as a medicine but rather the system that had built itself around dispensaries and the explosion in red-card holders to more than 8,000 in Fort Collins alone.

Those opposed to the ban said the dispensary model, which is currently found in Denver and other communities, provided a viable option for thousands of people seeking pain relief in a controlled way. Dispensary owners also had to walk a tight-rope of regulation, including cameras, licenses and oversight from the Department of Revenue at the state level.

“We followed all the rules,” Ackerman said. “We were licensed, we were doing things by the book. To be voted out of business was certainly not something we had ever anticipated.”

Medical marijuana was passed as a result of Amendment 20 to the Colorado constitution in 2000, which allowed for the use of pot for debilitating diseases under the patient-caregiver model. A 2009 decision took this a step further, allowing dispensaries to operate without being penalized by the federal government.

Since Question 300 passed, the Fort Collins City Council has agreed excess product may be sold to buyers outside of the area. Council-member Wade Troxell was opposed to this measure and said it encouraged the sale of pot despite the wish of the voters. However, he said that come Feb. 14, the final transition and inspection of the properties is expected to be successful and without incident.

“I think things are progressing as expected,” he said. “I think the citizens have had a chance to speak. In our plurality system, the majority at the polls have the vote.”

The Fort Collins decision last fall eliminated dispensaries from city limits as well as put a moratorium on dispensaries in Larimer county, according to Ackerman, which severely limits what options remain for dispensary owners.

“I don’t anticipate what I’m doing from here on out,” he said. “It is not easy,”

But regardless of how close the race was or how many regulations ensued, Ackerman’s concern now is simply selling the remaining product while encouraging people to vote about things that actually matter to them –– something he said didn’t happen as it should have last November.

“Going into this business required a great deal of investment,” Ackerman said. “I just would hope that people who did not weigh in on this past election and think it’s wrong will weigh in next time.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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