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Dispensary owner snubs moratorium

A Montana-based medical marijuana vendor selling in Archuleta County says he will defy Pagosa Springs area moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries because he was engaged in business prior to moratorium adoptions at the town and county and has the advertising records to prove it.

“He (my attorney) is ready for a test case right now. We will violate any silly rule they think they can enact. They (the town and county) are in direct violation of Colorado’s Amendment 20. We have a fair amount of funds to push this case through the courts if need be. We have no intention of fighting the city. We don’t want to be on main street. If the board of county commissioners thinks they are going to stop us, they better prepare for a lawsuit,” said Michael Smith, owner of The Healing Center of Montana.

Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado serves as Smith’s attorney.

Smith recently left Archuleta County for Montana, citing financial issues — namely a defunct construction industry — as the reason for his departure.

The Town of Pagosa Springs enacted a six-month moratorium on issuing new dispensary business licenses Oct. 15, while the county adopted a 60-day moratorium Sept. 30.

A review of The SUN’s advertising account records indicates Smith began advertising with the paper Sept. 24, 2009. However, advertising records may do little to bolster Smith’s claims to business legitimacy or exemption from the county moratorium, as attorneys or a judge, according to Vicente, will likely desire more formal documentation, such as filings for a state or federal tax identification number to establish proof of a business’ validity.

Smith said he does not need tax identification numbers because he does not collect sales taxes. The reason: “I’m set up as a non-profit — just like the Red Cross. We’re just like a food co-op. This is a private club,” Smith said. “I don’t think people should make money off the sick and dying. My cancer patient is not going to pay your taxes. I’m not here to buy an island or a plane off the sick and dying,” Smith said. Co-op members can sell an ounce of marijuana to the Healing Center for $250, said Smith. The Healing Center, he said, then sells that ounce for $350. Smith indicated the $100 per ounce barely covers his expenses.

According to Smith, The Healing Center is supplying medical marijuana in “a collective cooperative” fashion to those holding a valid Colorado medical marijuana registry card from a residence in Aspen Springs Unit 2. Smith said Archuleta County resident Matt Jones serves as his caregiver and as his front man for Archuleta County operations.

By Colorado law, caregivers can grow up to six plants per patient — three in a flowering state and three in a vegetative state — and hold up to two ounces of usable marijuana per patient.

Smith said The Healing Center of Montana also serves patients in Bozeman, Butte, Helena and Livingston, Mont.

Smith, a former general contractor, said he uses between seven and 10 grams of medical marijuana per day to treat medical problems associated with documented nerve damage over much of his body.

Smith said marijuana’s healing powers can be traced back over centuries and through a wide variety of cultures, and that the plant and its by-products are powerful tools — not just for healing, —but also for nutritional purposes.

“The human body can live off the cannabis seed and water alone,” Smith said.

While Smith says he is operating fully within his rights under Colorado’s Amendment 20 and dares county staff or the commissioners to shut him down, Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr has a different perspective.

“I think the courts have been very clear that a municipality can regulate medical marijuana operations. The regulations have to be reasonable, and the regulations can only restrict the time, place and manner of operation,” Starr said.

“Right now there is a moratorium. As soon as that law (the county ordinance) is passed, there will be provisions for medical marijuana and that will be the law of the county and the county will enforce its ordinances,” Starr said.

Starr said the county planning commission has put forth recommended changes to the land use code regarding medical marijuana and home-based business.

Starr anticipated those recommendations will go before the Board of County Commissioners for approval in the coming weeks.

james@pagosasun.com