Basalt harbors no ‘redneck’ attitude on medical marijuana
BASALT – Basalt officials insist their moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries isn’t intended to erect a bureaucratic roadblock or send a philosophical statement in Colorado’s ongoing debate over pot.
The Basalt Town Council voted 4-0 last week to enact the moratorium for up to two years. The town staff proposed the temporary ban to provide time for the state to better define how it wants the budding industry regulated.
That could happen as soon as the 2011 legislative session which begins in January, said Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane, and if it does, the town will end the moratorium and resume the review of new applications for dispensaries.
“Nobody wants to project an intolerant, redneck kind of attitude,” Kane said.
But the current review process is proving costly and time-consuming, he said. Basalt estimates it spent $10,000 on legal and administrative costs in the review of Basalt Alternative Medicine (BAM), which is the only dispensary currently licensed in Basalt. BAM hopes to open this month in the midvalley.
The town has no way to recoup those expenses, unlike with the review of land-use applications. When the town checks a developer’s application, various fees allow the government to recover some of those expenses.
When asked to cite examples of how the state needs to better define its regulations, Kane said numerous clarifications are needed on rules for grow operations. In addition, more guidance is needed on background checks for employees of dispensaries.
“It became obvious to us that these rules aren’t cooked yet,” Kane said.
Basalt’s Town Council generally takes a liberal approach to issues so, in that sense, the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries might have been a surprise. Councilman Pete McBride said he supported the moratorium because he agreed with staff that clarity is needed from the state.
“I’m not against the current situation with medical marijuana, but it is very confusing, and small towns like Basalt that are trying to be proactive feel like they’re being guinea pigs for the state,” McBride said. “If the state makes it clear, I don’t see a problem lifting the moratorium.”
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt departed the council meeting before the vote on the moratorium because of illness, but she said she told Kane she supported it. She told The Aspen Times a few days after the meeting that the state government has done a good job over the years defining what an applicant must do to earn a liquor license, and defining how they can lose it. She wants similar clarity with medical marijuana licenses.
“For me personally, I don’t care if it’s completely legalized but I want the regulations in place and the communities to get the revenues from it,” Whitsitt said.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman, like Whitsitt, an activist on many liberal causes, said the uncertainty of federal laws as well as state regulations convinced her the moratorium was necessary.
“It’s a very difficult topic because the law is so unsettled,” Freedman said.
Municipalities and counties in Colorado have the ability to write some of their own rules on dispensaries, including outright bans. Basalt created strict zoning in 2009 that allows medical marijuana dispensaries only in buildings that qualify as medical centers. That limits it to somewhere between two and four sites in Basalt.
Kane said the council felt the zoning reflected the state intention – that dispensaries were created to serve a medical need.
“Do we want them downtown? No,” he said. “Do we think they have a role in the community? Yeah.”
The purpose of the zoning and the moratorium was not to create a potential monopoly for BAM, although that could be a result. As of now, that isn’t happening because BAM isn’t open. In addition, the town staff’s review of the BAM application was often contentious. The town initially rejected the application, then proposed a compromise to allow BAM to transfer the license from a previous dispensary since one owner remained the same.
McBride said he is concerned that the town’s rules may have unintentionally created a monopoly for the only dispensary in town and given leverage to landlords in the few commercial spaces where dispensaries can open.
“In our best intentions, we created a small snafu but I think we can solve it,” McBride said.
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