Carbondale code changed to recognize legal marijuana |

Carbondale code changed to recognize legal marijuana

John Colson

CARBONDALE — This town’s criminal codes now reflect the new reality of legalized marijuana use by adults, although questions have come up about what is the appropriate punishment for someone who violates the new pot laws.

The board of trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved revisions to the town’s codes, eliminating certain provisions that dated back to before last year’s passage of Amendment 64, which legalized the cultivation, manufacturing, sale, purchase, possession and use of pot for recreational purposes, at least for those aged 21 years or older.

The vote to approve the changes was 5-0, with trustees Frosty Merriott and John Foulkrod absent.

Under the new laws, town residents and visitors alike can light up a joint in the privacy of local homes, but not in a public place such as a park, on the street, in a public restroom or other such venues that are open to public use and access, including businesses, bars and restaurants.

“The board, I think, took kind of a middle ground on this.” Jay Harrington, Carbondale town manager

The new laws also permit the cultivation of up to six plants by an individual, “with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants,” although the new town codes require that the cultivation take place in a “closed, locked space and may not be conducted openly and publicly,”to prevent access by anyone younger than 21, particularly young children.

Attorney Alison Eastley, who has worked with the town’s attorney, Mark Hamilton, in writing up the new codes, noted at Tuesday’s meeting that the Carbondale laws in large part reflect state laws enacted by the Colorado General Assembly in response to the passage of Amendment 64 last November.

“A lot of this ordinance has to do with reciting and reciting and restating what already exists within state law,” she told the trustees at Tuesdays’ meeting.

At that meeting, the trustees made a small number of final suggestions about things they’d like to see in the proposed law, so a final version will be presented to the board at a future meeting.

Much of the discussion on Tuesday was to confirm board members’ perceptions of the new law, such as when Trustee Pam Zentmyer asked Eastley, “We are not going to allow any private marijuana clubs, correct?”

Correct, Eastley replied, adding, “If you are on a private premise, but it’s within view of the public, that’s allowed.”

When Zentmyer questioned the difference between the two provisions, town manager Jay Harrington clarified that the smoking clubs were defined as requiring membership in commercial establishments, where the idea of a “private premise” was meant to imply a home, apartment or any private property not generally open to the public, even if it can be seen by the public from a public thoroughfare.

But, Harrington acknowledged at the meeting, “That private-club definition might have to evolve over time.”

Marijuana, in this context, is to be regulated as if it were alcohol, and be subject to restrictions similar to “open container laws” that prevent drinking in public.

This is to include public events, such as Mountain Fair, although Harrington told the Post Independent on Wednesday that there is no expectation to have a “smoking tent” for marijuana users, similar to the Beer Tent that is a large part of the fair every year.

The new pot law is a mere five pages long, and while it is the current state of things in town it is likely to change, officials have conceded.

“The board, I think, took kind of a middle ground on this,” said Harrington on Wednesday — less restrictive than codes adopted in some other municipalities and counties, but less liberal than those in some jurisdictions.

“I think of some of this is being on a little bit of a learning curve,” said Mayor Stacey Bernot at the meeting, explaining that the ordinances may be further modified as dictated by the town’s experiences in the coming months and years.

“We’re going to live and let learn,” quipped Harrington on Wednesday, paraphrasing the title of a James Bond novel.

Currently, the penalties for violating the town’s new pot law are the same as for other violations of town ordinances — a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail, as determined by Municipal Judge John Collins. The trustees agreed to hold off on setting a schedule of fines for violations of the new pot law, preferring to wait and see if a more precise system of fines is needed.

Harrington reminded city voters that there is a question on the Nov. 5 mid-term election ballot, proposing a sales tax of 5 percent to be levied by pot shops, and an excise tax, to be applied to products moving from growers to the pot shops, of another 5 percent.

These taxes, if passed, would be added to proposed sales taxes of 10 percent and excise taxes of 15 percent at the state level, if the proposed state taxes are approved by voters.

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