LAFAYETTE -- The City Council came within a single vote of banning medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday night, instead voting 4-3 to craft a set of rules that would regulate the industry in the city.
The packed hearing room in City Hall broke out in loud applause and back-slapping late Tuesday night as medical marijuana advocates expressed joy at the close victory.
Councilman Stephen Kracha, who just two hours earlier had been appointed to fill a vacant seat on the council, proved to be a critical vote in keeping Lafayette from joining three other municipalities in Boulder County -- Erie, Superior and Jamestown -- in banning medical marijuana facilities.
Broomfield also prohibits dispensaries.
Tuesday's vote came after hours of impassioned public comment for and against the facilities, with proponents tearfully claiming that marijuana is the only solution that alleviates chronic pain and opponents claiming the dispensaries are smelly and encourage crime and loitering.
Lafayette has two dispensaries.
Lafayette resident Gregory Smith, whose wife has severe arthritis, broke down several times as he addressed the council.
"She's in pain every day -- medical marijuana helps her," he said. "She doesn't take it to get high and go to parties. She takes it because she needs it."
Rachel Gillette, a mother of two teenage boys, said she has never experienced any problems with the dispensary near her house -- Ka-tet Wellness Services -- and that Lafayette would be forgoing significant tax revenue if it put a ban in place.
"I see no reason that you should be turning down the tax revenue for the city," she said. "I really hope that you can work through regulations -- other communities have done it, there's no reason you can't too."
But Linda Newsome, who owns a dental office across the hall from Ka-tet, said her patients have to smell the odor of marijuana every time they come in for a visit.
"I have a medical office and I have patients who come in and they don't want that," she said.
Rebecca Schwendler, a resident of Old Town Lafayette, said she has seen people loitering near a dispensary in her neighborhood and she said the city needs to be very careful about where it allows the facilities to locate.
"Literally, I've seen people packing bowls and lighting up and driving down the road," she told the council.
Lafayette police Chief Rick Bashor said his department has responded to five burglaries and two armed home invasions involving medical marijuana. He said several of those incidents occurred at private residences where caregivers were growing legally permitted pot for patients or themselves.
Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2000 legalizing medical marijuana for patients suffering from certain conditions and chronic pain.
Councilman John Buechner took the lead in suggesting the council vote to ban dispensaries, saying there wouldn't be enough time to figure out how to implement specific city regulations.
"From a public policy point of view, we will find ourselves in a quagmire trying to draft rules and regulations," he said.
He was joined by Councilwoman Staci Lupberger and Mayor Frank Phillips in supporting a ban.
But other council members made the claim that Lafayette would be giving up critical tax revenues to neighboring communities, like Louisville, which on Tuesday voted to extend its medical marijuana moratorium so that it can finalize a set of regulations that it hopes to approve next month.
A draft set of regulations should come back to Lafayette City Council for consideration in the next few weeks.