Glenwood backs moratorium on medical marijuana
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Glenwood Springs City Council approved, by a 4-3 vote Thursday on first reading, a moratorium restricting any new medical marijuana dispensaries from opening up in town.
The council proposed the moratorium on the establishment of new dispensaries for six months to allow the state time to clarify pending legislation and to allow staff to analyze the need for local regulations at its May 6 meeting.
However, with the recent passage of HB 1284 and other bills anticipated to be signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter in the coming days, some council members thought a local freeze was unnecessary because state regulations would impose a year-long moratorium beginning July 1.
“One reason I supported this a few weeks ago when we started talking about this is because we weren’t sure when the state rules were going to pass,” said Councilman Matt Steckler. “Now we have a better idea, so the impact of a moratorium is probably not as significant as maybe we thought it once was.”
But most council members agreed a moratorium would allow them to see how the state Legislature would vote on HB 1284, which both the state Senate and House passed earlier this month. The bill creates stricter regulations and licensing requirements for the industry and may effect several of the dispensaries in town. Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to sign the bill into law in the next week.
That didn’t preclude council, however, from wanting to take action now and impose some sort of regulations to try to control the industry before things get out of control.
“I don’t want to over-regulate this,” said Glenwood Mayor Bruce Christensen. “But, it seems that we need a timeout.”
The moratorium restricts acceptance and processing of applications for the issuance of licenses, permits, development proposals or other approvals pertaining to the establishment, location and operation of medial marijuana dispensaries within Glenwood Springs. However, Councilman Russ Arensman argued that the moratorium gives exclusive licenses to the existing dispensaries in town.
“I’m opposed to us saying that the existing dispensaries get a license to continue business as usual, and everybody else is finished,” Arensman said. “To me it’s not a proper way to go about things.”
Arensman told his fellow councilors that the city should focus on how to regulate the industry and wait until HB 1284 is signed into law for the moratorium.
If the governor signs HB 1284, “it gives us the clear authority to regulate the industry,” Arensman said.
Councilman Leo McKinney supported Arensman’s view that a moratorium is unnecessary at this point.
“We are giving exclusive license to the shops that are already here,” he said. “On principle, I’ve got a real problem with that. I don’t think reasonable regulations are out of the question. But, I don’t see what waiting another couple of weeks is going to do.”
In a surprising turn, Councilman Stephen Bershenyi, who supported the moratorium, ultimately voted against it.
“I began the day thinking that I would be in favor of passing this and … what I’ve heard here tonight has kind of changed my mind a little bit,” he said. “I think that maybe we have better uses of our time.”
Bershenyi thought that council would be better off beginning to work through how the city should regulate the industry once, and if, the bill is signed into law.
“Maybe we should start thinking about what we want to do as a community in terms of coupling any regulations we see as necessary in the community to [HB 1284],” Bershenyi said.
But others thought the city had waited long enough for the state, and that it was time to take some action to regulate the industry.
“I don’t have a problem considering total legalization of marijuana, but that is not what we have right now,” Christensen said. “What we have is limited to people who truly have a need. And I’m concerned [about] putting that in jeopardy with this wide-open commerce which we have right now.”
Steckler agreed that it was time to take action.
“The Denver legislation says you have six weeks to get in and get set up,” he said. “We are just shortening the window, and I think it’s a good thing.”
Currently, Glenwood Springs has eight dispensaries within town limits.
The moratorium vote passed with support from Councilors Steckler, Shelley Kaup, Christensen and Dave Sturges, while Councilors McKinney, Bershenyi and Arensman voted against the ordinance. The moratorium will go into effect on June 17.
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