MEDICAL MARY JANE: Manufacturer’s request spurs Aurora officials to table medical marijuana

Two council members on the city’s ad hoc policy committee that deals with weed issues, Sally Mounier and Bob Roth, recently agreed to green-light a discussion on allowing the sale, manufacturing and cultivation of medical marijuana in Aurora. Those practices are currently banned under city code.

AURORA | Marijuana could become more than a recreational pastime in Aurora in the coming years if city council members agree to move forward with a recent request to add medical pot to the city’s growing green galaxy.

Two council members on the city’s ad hoc policy committee that deals with weed issues, Sally Mounier and Bob Roth, recently agreed to green-light a discussion on allowing the sale, manufacturing and cultivation of medical marijuana in Aurora. Those practices are currently banned under city code.

But, should at least six city council members so choose, that could change with the repeal of as few as two city ordinances, according to Tim Joyce, assistant city attorney.

At the May 30 meeting, Joyce said the city would have to axe a pair of building and retail codes if officials were to pursue allowing medical marijuana. It would not require a popular vote.

“All council has to do is repeal a couple ordinances —the business license ordinance that prohibits medical marijuana licensing and the building code that prohibits medical marijuana facilities,” he said. “City council always has the decision to enact any ordinance or repeal any ordinance.”

The issue of allowing medical marijuana in the city resurfaced last month at the behest of a marijuana manufacturer in the city, officials said.

Patricia Noonan, CEO of Aurora-based cannabinoid manufacturing firm WonderLeaf, sent a letter addressed to the Aurora City Council earlier this year asking them to mend city rules and allow the company to obtain a “medical infused product license” from the state and the city.

The request specifically asks only for the city to allow medical marijuana manufacturing — not retail sales.

However, Roth and Mounier — Councilwoman Barb Cleland also sits on the committee but was absent from the recent meeting — agreed to hold a wider discussion on medical marijuana in the city at an upcoming study session. The talk will not be limited to the request for manufacturing.

Noonan, who began operating her manufacturing firm in north Aurora last spring, said the letter was a product of repeated requests from her customers across the state, asking her to produce medical products on top of her line of recreational oils and waxes.

“A lot of our customers have both recreational and medical stores and they’ve been asking us to do the medical side,” she said.

Noonan said she chose to draft the letter around the one-year anniversary of her business being open as a means of demonstrating a prolonged stretch of compliant business operations.

“We wanted to wait until we had demonstrated enough of a history with the city in order to ask for that,” she said.

In her letter, Noonan wrote that adding the new medical license would not result in any additional work for the city.

“AMED (Aurora’s Marijuana Enforcement Division) would have no additional work as the quarterly site visits and annual reviews would require no additional staffing or hours,” she wrote.

Robin Peterson, head of the city’s pot division, did not initially dispute that claim.

Noonan added that the new medical business would not result in any changes to her operation other than implementing new tracking mechanisms to separate medical products from recreational ones.

Peterson said this is the first formal request her department has received regarding medical marijuana manufacturing in the city.

Jason Batchelor, deputy city manager, said the city has received inquiries about the greater issue of medical weed in the city in the past, but nothing as formal as Noonan’s letter.

In 2010, Aurora voters rejected a ballot measure calling for medical marijuana in the city. Recreational weed ultimately landed in Aurora in the fall in 2014, however, after city officials sewed up a novel business license lottery system that eventually permitted 24 recreational shops across the city.

There is currently one facility in the city, TEQ Analytical Laboratories, that tests the quality of both medical and recreational marijuana. The firm is allowed to handle medical weed because testing marijuana was not specifically mentioned in the failed ballot measure in 2010, Batchelor said.

Council members hinted they would suggest keeping the same 24 stores that are legally permitted in the city currently, if the full council were to move forward with selling medical marijuana. Those stores could simply choose to add the new products if they were interested.

Pending the drafting of a formal council proposal, Batchelor said the city could elect to honor Noonan’s manufacturing request alone, add medical retail sales and cultivation, or any combination thereof.

Noonan said if the city were to deny her request, her firm would be forced to look into expanding her operation into another municipality where the practice is legal.

“If we were to expand to medical, we would have to look for another location in another municipality that would allow it,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we would leave Aurora for our recreational side, but it’s obviously better to have everything under one house than it is to have things split.”