Snowmass Town Council says it wants to learn about marijuana, extend moratorium on pot shops | AspenTimes.com

Snowmass Town Council says it wants to learn about marijuana, extend moratorium on pot shops

The Snowmass Town Council is seeking higher education on cannabis — from the business behind Colorado's billion-dollar industry down to the marijuana strains.

"I think it would be valuable for someone to come and speak with us about the business of marijuana. … I'm not educated enough to know the pros and cons," Snowmass Town Councilman Bob Sirkus said at a work session Monday. "But there are people who understand them who can explain them to us and the community, and from there we can make more educated comments."

The discussion came Monday as the council contemplates how to best move forward with its "moratorium on marijuana facilities in Snowmass," according to a memo from Town Manager Clint Kinney and Town Attorney John Dresser.

The moratorium prohibits "the establishment of any medical marijuana facility or any retail marijuana establishment in the town of Snowmass Village," the memo states.

It went into effect in September 2013, according to Dresser, and is currently set to expire on March 15.

On Feb. 6, the council unanimously voted to extend the moratorium during a first reading of the proposed ordinance.

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A second reading and vote on the ordinance, which will extend the moratorium officially until Oct. 31, 2018, is scheduled to take place at the next council meeting Feb. 21.

Based on the discussion Monday, Kinney said he "fully expects" the council to vote in favor of the extension at second reading.

"What a moratorium does is it buys you some time," Kinney said to the Snowmass Sun after the work session. "And we just bought ourselves some more time, but we need to make a decision."

At Monday's work session, the council made clear that educating itself on cannabis, from seed to sale, is "step one," as Mayor Markey Butler articulated.

"I don't feel we've done enough homework or research for us to know how to set a timeline tonight," Butler said, referring to the timing of the moratorium going forward.

"Do I want to study it? Yeah," the mayor later said.

Though the extended moratorium would last until Halloween of next year, the council, Kinney and Dresser discussed potentially reaching decisions regarding pot shops and laws in Snowmass sooner — and in particular, before the town election that November.

"My only encouragement to you would be to move this faster (rather) than slower," Dresser advised the council.

The town attorney said in his "personal, not professional opinion," as issues heat up around election time, "decisions get made sometimes for not the most solid reason."

Markey agreed with Dresser and said, "I think it (would be) poor judgment on our part" to tie the town election with the issue of marijuana in the village.

Upon educating itself, the Snowmass Town Council intends to involve the public in on the conversation.

According to Kinney, "the only question that would have to go to voters is the taxation question."

"Everything else can go by ordinance," he said.

But the council and Kinney made clear that soliciting communal feedback on the matter is a priority.

"(The council) wants to involve the public, but they want to brief themselves first, get themselves up to speed," he said.

Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk, who was noticeably quiet during the discussion Monday, said, "I really don't know how people feel in general" about marijuana in Snowmass.

Shenk said the town needs to "get a pulse on the community and what people think."

"And that sounds like what we're going to do," she said.

Sirkus said, "It's been interesting to see where (Pitkin County Sheriff Joe) DiSalvo has come down on the issue" and asked Snowmass Police Chief Brian Olson, who was at the work session, to share his thoughts.

Olson told the council, "There's been no empirical evidence that the legalization of marijuana has created a spike in usage or law enforcement problems."

"And I'd have to concur with that, that locally we're not seeing any public safety increase," he said.

The police chief concluded, "I'm fine without it and I think we could manage with it."

erobbie@aspentimes.com