GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Glenwood City Councilman Todd Leahy says he believes Garfield County “over-stepped its bounds” in not allowing cultivation of marijuana for the new retail market in unincorporated parts of the county, as it is now allowed for medical marijuana purposes.
And the city of Glenwood Springs would be doing the same if it were only to allow cultivation operations within its lone industrial zone district along Devereux Road, he said.
No offense, Leahy prefaced during a Thursday discussion of the city’s retail marijuana regulations, “But I do believe Garfield County over-stepped its bounds by not going with the will of the vote of the people, and saying they’re not going to allow [retail activity] in the county.”
Garfield County commissioners recently passed an ordinance prohibiting all types of retail/recreational marijuana businesses in unincorporated parts of the county, as allowed under Colorado’s Amendment 64.
The measure, passed by state voters last year, opened the door for businesses to begin growing and selling limited amounts of marijuana and marijuana products to persons age 21 and older for recreational purposes, unless specifically prohibited by local jurisdictions.
County commissioners agreed that, while county voters approved cultivation for medical purposes in a 2010 election, such activity should not be allowed for the recreational trade.
While the county has shut the door on retail marijuana, municipalities, including Glenwood Springs, are preparing local zoning regulations in anticipation of existing medical marijuana shops expanding into the retail market after the first of the year.
Included in a set of recommendations from the city’s planning and zoning commission was one mirroring the current regulations for medical marijuana, which limits cultivation to the city’s I2 industrial zone.
“We’re basically zoning them out of business,” Leahy said of businesses that could sell within the city, but would have limited options for growing the product close by.
Council ultimately agreed to consider expanding cultivation for retail supply purposes to include the C3 Commercial General zones, but only through a special-use permit process that would allow neighboring property owners to weigh in at a public hearing.
The C3 zone includes areas along South Grand Avenue, Sixth Street and Highway 6 in West Glenwood.
Councilman Matt Steckler said he’s reluctant to expand cultivation opportunities beyond the single industrial zone.
“I just feel like it’s easier to step into this pond than to dive in,” Steckler said, suggesting that the rules can always be revisited as the new marijuana trade has a chance to establish itself.
“That’s just my opinion, based on what I feel neighbors would tolerate,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to make things more restrictive [after allowing certain uses] than it is to make them less restrictive.”
Council is also considering less-restrictive setbacks for retail marijuana businesses, both from each other and from schools, in order to allow pre-existing, non-conforming medical marijuana dispensaries to expand into the retail market.
As it is, some of the city’s five medical marijuana dispensaries do not conform to zoning rules that were written by the city after those businesses had already opened.
By establishing a 325-foot separation between marijuana businesses and a 500-foot setback from schools, those shops would be allowed to expand, council agreed in giving direction to the city attorney to draft a zoning ordinance for formal consideration in November.
The planning and zoning commission had recommended a 350-foot separation between businesses and 500 feet from schools. However, council at one time had discussed a 1,000-foot setback from schools.
Council agreed that distance would be too restrictive, noting that liquor stores and other licensed liquor establishments currently operate within 1,000 feet of schools.
“If it’s truly about protecting our kids, why aren’t we doing the same thing with alcohol?” Mayor Leo McKinney said.
The proposed zoning regulations also create a definition of marijuana clubs, which would be prohibited under the rules currently being considered by the city.
A club would essentially be any business that allows patrons to buy and smoke or consume marijuana on the premises, similar to a bar that serves alcohol.
It’s something council members said the city might want to consider at some point in the future, but not just yet.
“The idea of having clubs is something we can always revisit,” Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said. “But I don’t favor opening ourselves to that exposure at this point.”
McKinney said he, too, could be persuaded to allow clubs in the future.
But Steckler said he would likely never be convinced that having marijuana clubs is a good idea.
“Clubs and marijuana zones, anything that celebrates the culture, I’m not interested in that,” he said. “We have a robust tourist economy that relies on families, and we need to protect that.”
The proposed marijuana zoning regulations for the city would also limit the hours of operation for retail businesses to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., same as for existing medical marijuana dispensaries.
Under Amendment 64, existing medical marijuana businesses are being allowed to be the first to obtain state licenses to expand into the recreational/retail trade starting Jan. 1, 2014. New businesses will have to wait until next October to apply.
“Clubs and marijuana zones, anything that celebrates the culture, I’m not interested in that. We have a robust tourist economy that relies on families, and we need to protect that.”
Glenwood Springs city councilman