Altitude Organic Medicine owner Brian Cook says two members of the Denver City Council are trying to shut down his business over what he sees as an improper interpretation of an outmoded zoning rule.
“We opened in November, and we’ve been paying sales taxes – increasing amounts of sales taxes – every month since then,” Cook notes. But in March, the dispensary was denied a license “based on our zone, which was an R-MU-30 – a residential, mixed-use zone.” Cook is perplexed by this turn-down, since the code for R-MU-30 encourages commercial retail. “Our attorneys made sure of that before we opened,” he emphasizes.
The amendment to shut down his business passed today – but Cook’s hoping to fight it in court.
Cook and his attorneys believed this designation allowed the dispensary to open — but in March, the city denied its license.
Since then, the new zoning rules have gone into effect, and AOM is now in a commercial zone. But city council members Doug Linkhart and Carla Madison put forward an amendment to prevent AOM from operating, despite the change. Cook and his attorneys showed up at yesterday’s council meeting prepared to offer a defense, but they soon discovered that the die was cast.
“Right when we got there, the first orders of business were six or seven amendments that were ready for the final vote,” Cook notes. “They put them all together and voted ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ all at once.”
Hence, the amendment passed before Cook and his attorney got a chance to speak about it. They weren’t allowed to share their views until an after-the-fact public comments period. “We got to talk for about forty seconds apiece,” he estimates. The council members didn’t respond, he recalls. It was “thanks and goodbye,” he says.
At this point, Cook can only speculate about the motivation for the amendment. But he can’t help seeing a connection between the council’s action and the rise of a new neighborhood dispensary, the LoHi Cannabis Club. The center’s website mentions a mid-April opening, but Cook says it appears to be readying for launch now.
“They put up their sign yesterday, like they knew we’d be denied,” he says. “And they couldn’t be approved for a license unless we were denied, since they’re less than 700 feet from us.” Denver council passed regulations preventing dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of another similar operation.
The amendment “blocks our 900 patients from being able to use our business,” Cook laments. “Our patients are just being thrown out into the wind. The city doesn’t give a shit about any of them. And this doesn’t make any legal sense.”
With that in mind, Cook wants to fight the amendment by asking for a temporary injunction in district court to block closure, which would otherwise take place by July 3. In addition, he’s looking at suing the city over its action.
Both of these moves would be pricey. “It’s all about money at this stage,” he acknowledges. “But if we can get our patient registry to chip in to make it a class-action suit, we can do it. And I know from the letters we got from many of our patients that there’s a lot of support for doing something like that.”
“This is mind-boggling,” he adds. “I can’t stop thinking about how this happened, and why they did this to us.”