Glenwood Springs lays groundwork for recreational pot businesses
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Honoring what it believes was a mandate from city voters last fall, Glenwood Springs City Council indicated Thursday night that it will allow regulated recreational marijuana businesses within city limits starting next year.
“We as a city need to follow the will of the voters, which was very clear, and find a way to accommodate that,” Mayor Leo McKinney said during discussion at Thursday’s council meeting about whether to regulate or prohibit recreational marijuana businesses locally, as provided by Colorado’s Amendment 64.
McKinney pointed to a breakdown of the November 2012 vote in the Glenwood Springs precincts, where more than 60 percent of voters favored the measure.
Amendment 64 passed by a more than 55 percent margin statewide. It made it legal for those age 21 and older to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana for recreational purposes, in addition to the state’s allowance for medical marijuana.
The measure also cleared the way for a new retail marijuana industry in municipalities and counties that choose to allow it, beginning in January 2014. Such businesses are to be regulated and licensed in a way similar to liquor establishments.
“It’s pretty clear how our community felt on this,” McKinney said. “I’m all for moving forward with this.”
Councilman Ted Edmonds noted that the nation’s “war on drugs” was declared more than 40 years ago by President Richard Nixon.
“And we’re losing,” he said.
“Prohibition doesn’t work; that’s been proven over and over,” Edmonds said. “The voters have spoken, and I’m not inclined to overrule the will of the people of this state.”
Moratorium to be extended
That said, council did agree by a 4-3 vote to prepare an ordinance extending the city’s current moratorium on taking applications for new marijuana businesses, now slated to expire Oct. 1, until the end of the year.
That will buy some extra time for the city to put its own regulatory structure in place, in addition to whatever refined rules the state comes up with later this year.
The Colorado Department of Revenue issued emergency rules providing a regulatory scheme for retail sales, cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities related to recreational marijuana earlier this month.
However, the state is still working on a permanent set of rules, which are due out by November, said Jan Shute, city attorney for Glenwood Springs.
Local jurisdictions have until Oct. 1 to decide whether they intend to regulate or prohibit marijuana businesses within their boundaries.
But, until the state finalizes its process, it would be difficult for Glenwood Springs to write its own local zoning and licensing regulations, Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said.
“This whole thing has an aura of being rushed,” Bershenyi said. “There are still a lot of things to be settled before we know what we can do.
“I have no problem with the recreational use of marijuana by adults,” he added. “But I don’t want to see Glenwood Springs become a mecca for hooka bars. We don’t need that kind of thing going on.”
The rest of council, including McKinney and Edmonds, also agreed that marijuana clubs, which would be similar to bars, are not acceptable for Glenwood Springs.
The state’s recreational marijuana rules include a provision that allows existing medical marijuana dispensaries to get their foot in the door first to be able to offer retail sales for recreational purposes.
By extending the city’s moratorium, though, it could put local dispensaries at a competitive disadvantage, said Lauren Maytin, an Aspen attorney who represents several area medical marijuana businesses.
“The state has some pretty extensive rules already, and they are to be strictly followed,” she said. “A moratorium puts these businesses in a delay mode unfairly.”
Any delay beyond the first of the year would also prevent the city from collecting the taxes necessary to properly regulate the businesses, plus any economic benefit it would provide to Glenwood Springs, Maytin said.
Colorado voters will be asked this November to approve a 15 percent excise tax on commercial recreational marijuana activities, plus a 10 percent statewide sales tax on retail pot purchases, in addition to existing sales taxes.
Municipalities and counties can also ask voters to approve local taxes. Glenwood Springs may consider a tax at some point, although council members were unsure whether to try for a tax at this fall’s election. The Carbondale Board of Trustees is expected to seek an additional 5 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana at the Nov. 5 election.
Brian Radtke, whose family owns and operates the Green Essentials dispensary in Glenwood Springs, said he would like to expand into the recreational trade.
“I remain a huge believer in the medical side of it,” he said. “But the two should be divided within a store, because medical patients are treated differently from a recreational customer.”
State law will require a separation in accounting for the two sides of the business. Radtke said his business intends to have a physical separation as well, and suggested the city consider that when writing its local regulations.
He also suggested that any local taxes go toward drug education in the schools and for the general population.
City council will also begin discussions soon regarding rules and regulations that will be specific to recreational marijuana businesses.
The city already has zoning rules and licensing procedures in place for medical marijuana businesses, including limits on the location of such businesses and a required distance separation from schools.
That could provide a template for similar regulations around recreational marijuana, Councilor Edmonds said.
“We’ve done a lot of work on this already,” he said. “I fail to see why those same restrictions don’t fundamentally apply to the recreational side as well.”
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