The unmistakable and sometimes overwhelming bouquet of marijuana has prompted a handful of Boulder residents and businesses to complain about the smell radiating from some dispensaries and greenhouses in the city.
City officials say it's a problem that's only expected to get worse with time and has already driven some neighboring businesses to move.
Boulder code-enforcement officers are now investigating at least seven complaints about wafting smells of marijuana. Under a rule approved last year by the City Council, dispensaries and growing operations are required to keep the musk of the plant contained to their business, or face fines of up to $1,000.
A recent memo on the topic sent to the council indicates the complaints are based on "strong marijuana odors, both from smoking and the odor emitted from plants."
The complaints have come from tenants in buildings where marijuana is being grown or smoked, as well as from "businesses and travelers near cultivation facilities where the odor is noticeable, even if the exact location of the cultivation facility is unknown."
The memo goes on to say that at least two other businesses have "relocated because of the odor from a neighboring medical marijuana business."
Sarah Huntley, a city spokeswoman, said Monday that the names of those businesses were not immediately available.
She said the city is highly motivated to work with the owners of medical marijuana businesses to make sure they -- like all businesses -- follow the rules for their industry. She said odor violations are just one of the regulatory challenges as the industry grows, but fixing it is important because it's "certainly one of the impacts the community may notice more."
The city, however, has limited options when it comes to regulating unwanted odors.
If the smell is coming from a private residence or from medical marijuana patients who are growing six or fewer plants -- the city's threshold for being labeled a marijuana business -- there is nothing the city can do about it.
If the smell is coming from patients smoking the drug inside a dispensary, police could issue tickets under the rules that prohibit smoking the plant at marijuana centers.
The city's code requires medical marijuana businesses to have proper ventilation, so that the odor of the plant "cannot be detected by a person with a normal sense of smell" outside the building. Otherwise, the city can fine the owner until the problem is fixed.
To help track such violations, the city is developing a central reporting system for city departments to use. The database will be used to assess how well businesses have followed the rules when their licenses are up for renewal.
Brad Melshenker, owner of The Greenest Green dispensary, 2034 Pearl St., said controlling the smell of his products is a daily challenge.
"It's a strong-smelling plant," he said. "The flower is really strong, certain strains smell more than others. I like to think the more potent the medicine, the stronger the smell."
Melshenker said some people have complained about the odor from his shop. But he said he's working to fix it.
"We put a carbon filter in the room where we weigh everything," he said. "We are in the middle of pulling permits for another ventilation system because we have had complaints. We are doing everything in our power to get control of it."
Luisa Sullivan owns the Davanti Cycling Coaching Center, a sports training center located about 30 feet away from the Greenest Green. She said she often gets a whiff of the plant from across the parking lot.
"It depends on the wind," she said with a laugh.
Sullivan said the odor is not consistently a problem, but she'd still like to see the city better enforce the no-smell rule.
Nick Cokas, owner of the Colorado Care dispensary at 2850 Iris Ave., said the amount of odor generated by a dispensary has a lot to do with the way it does business. If the drug is pre-packaged, he said, there's hardly an odor at all. But when dispensaries do inventory, opening up all the containers can produce a pretty strong smell.
Cokas said the city's anti-odor rules are fair, and that containing the odor is just part of doing business. But he said working with neighbors is key to knowing when there's a problem.
"We've been really good with the neighbors, telling them, 'If you have a problem, come tell us," he said. "Having that relationship is key."
But, he added, it's not like other businesses don't let the odor of their products linger.
"This morning, I'm sitting here smelling burgers," he said.
Contact Camera staff writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328, or firstname.lastname@example.org.