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City likely to revisit separation between pot shops

Glenwood Springs City Council members, along with Police Chief Terry Wilson (with arms crossed) and other city staff, discuss possible revisions to the city's marijuana business laws during a July 2 work session.
Colleen O’Neil | Post Independent

Glenwood Springs City Council is considering a range of possible changes to the city’s marijuana business regulations, from limiting the overall number of shops to treating certain parts of town differently than others when defining the neighborhood that is being served.

But the one area where council seems to agree as it reviews the city’s rules governing the 18-month-old industry is to increase the required distance separating marijuana businesses as a way to control the proliferation of retail shops and other marijuana-related business activities.

Currently, that separation requirement is 325 feet, which is 25 feet less than what was on the books for medical marijuana dispensaries when the city wrote its rules for recreational retail stores in 2013.

Some observers, including existing marijuana shop owners, have suggested that distance could be increased by several hundred feet.

“I do think it’s a good idea to limit the number of businesses, I just don’t know how we do that without exposing ourselves to liability or hurting businesses that are already in place,” Councilman Matt Steckler said during a July 2 work session to begin reviewing the city marijuana codes.

“If we have these (greater) setbacks, the problem effectively takes care of itself,” he said.

Councilman Leo McKinney agreed that, rather than putting a hard cap on the number of businesses the city will allow, increased setbacks are a way to address it.

“If we want to limit the number, the simplest way to do that is through setbacks,” McKinney said, adding it provides a “natural limit” without getting into a philosophical compromise about how many shops to allow.

The city is about a month into a 90-day moratorium on new marijuana business and land-use applications, following concerns about a rash of new proposals for retail shops in the downtown area.

Council last week upheld the city license hearing officer’s denial of two of those applications, the Green Dragon retail shop and marijuana edibles kitchen at 919 Grand Ave., and the Recreational Releaf Dispensary at 404 10th St.

A third of four recent requests for retail licenses, Martin’s Naturals on Sixth Street, is scheduled before city licensing officer Angela Roff Wednesday afternoon.

City Attorney Karl Hanlon advised council members that the city is not opening itself up legally by tightening up its marijuana regulations.

“There are a number of highly regulated businesses, and this is one of those,” Hanlon said of strict state and local controls over such things as liquor and tobacco sales and even adult entertainment businesses, which have strict land-use controls over where they can locate.

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use and purchase under Colorado’s Amendment 64 is still somewhat of a “pilot project,” Hanlon said.

“I represent six different communities, and all of them are having this same discussion in some manner,” he said. “It’s just kind of the evolution of the process.”

Mayor Mike Gamba said he would also be willing to go along with increasing the separation between marijuana businesses, but worried about dealing with a bunch of nonconforming businesses after the rules are changed.

Existing businesses that are within whatever newly established distance is decided on would be allowed to continue, at least until the business changes hands or undergoes a major expansion.

Council also seemed in consensus that the best way to define the “neighborhood served” when considering new marijuana licenses is to look at Glenwood Springs as a whole, rather than different sectors.

“I really don’t want to steer this stuff to certain parts of town,” Steckler said. “I have this vision in my head of all these shops clustered along the river, and that’s not what I want to see in my community at all.”

Police Chief Terry Wilson, who joined the conversation, said the 500-foot separation between marijuana businesses and schools is probably adequate.

“I don’t think the location of a dispensary is going to enhance the ability of youth to get ahold of an illegal substance,” he said. “They’re getting it at home and from friends.”

Marijuana is only legal for adults age 21 and older to possess and purchase in Colorado.

City Council will continue the discussion about revising the city’s marijuana laws over the next couple of months, and any changes will come back for a formal public hearing before they would be adopted.


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