Janet Suthers, a Planning Commission member who ignited a firestorm of controversy in September when she urged religious leaders to weigh in on zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, called today’s recommendation to City Council a “fair and balanced zoning policy.”
The commission is recommending a 1,000-foot buffer zone between medical marijuana dispensaries and a wide range of schools, from preschools to colleges and universities.
The commission is also recommending the same setback between dispensaries and residential child care facilities and drug and/or alcohol treatment facilities.
“Every planning commissioner brings life experiences to their position and their decisions,” Suthers said in a prepared statement. “I am a mother, a businesswoman and a former school board president. I am very concerned that the proliferation of centers will increase drug usage among our youth and undermine all the work that our community is doing to increase high school graduation rates. No amount of tax revenue will make up for that societal cost.”
Suthers, who is considering running for the City Council in April, is married to state Attorney General John Suthers.
In her prepared statement, Suthers also said that “already we are seeing an increase in student expulsions for marijuana use and an increase in arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana.”
However, she didn’t provide the data to back up that claim or cite her source. The Gazette sent Suthers an e-mail requesting that information.
Here is the full text of Suthers’ statement:
This is a very important issue for our entire community that could define our city for years to come. I recognize that the Cannabis Council is an important stakeholder in this issue and I thank them for their valuable input. However, they are not the only ones impacted by this policy. The Planning Commission is a level playing field in which all community members can express their views. It is the Planning Commission and not the Cannabis Council who is in the best position to recommend zoning and land use policy to City Council. I am proud of our efforts to reach out to all institutions in our city and to invite everyone to participate. Some institutions gave considerable input. Others chose not to participate. What I learned during these hearings was that there is a strong desire from our educational institutions for a buffer around schools. This applies to early learning centers, pre-schools, K-12 education, colleges and universities.
Every Planning Commissioner brings life experiences to their position and their decisions. I am a mother, a businesswoman and a former school board president. I am very concerned that the proliferation of centers will increase drug usage among our youth and undermine all the work that our community is doing to increase high school graduation rates. No amount of tax revenue will make up for that societal cost. Already we are seeing an increase in student expulsions for marijuana use and an increase in arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana. A recent Harvard study confirmed the negative changes to the brain caused by smoking marijuana regularly before the age of sixteen.
As a planning commissioner, I am also very uncomfortable approving ordinances for businesses that I know are in violation of federal law. This is a major disconnect for me and has made my decision difficult. The Denver Post has reported that legitimate medical marijuana users are less that 4% of the total market, yet we are going to extraordinary lengths to accommodate them.
I have listened to the Cannabis Council and I understand that our zoning recommendation will impact some businesses. However it is not the responsibility of the Planning Commission to manage risk for business owners. Every one of these marijuana businesses knew that they were an illegal land use when they opened and they all knew that they were making financial investments before zoning and licensing regulations were developed. There were no guarantees. It was their choice and their risk assumption. Additionally, If the federal government changes its enforcement policies, they could all still be shut down. The risks and the rewards are theirs.
I support this motion because the zoning makes sense to me, because the 1000 foot buffer around schools is consistent with the federal No Child Left Behind legislation for 1000 foot drug free zones around schools, because 1000 feet is the recommended buffer in Colorado HB 1284 which legalized dispensaries in Colorado and because our educational institutions have asked for it. I also support 1000 foot buffers around drug treatment facilities because I respect their work and want to support their efforts. I know that the entire Planning Commission listened carefully to all the testimony and gave this issue their best thinking. Given our many constraints as a land use review board, I believe that we are recommending to City Council a fair and balanced zoning policy.