Council declines to extend moratorium on pot businesses

John Stroud
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — City Council will not further delay local medical marijuana businesses from being able to start selling pot to recreational users at the first of the year, as provided for in Amendment 64.

Council, at its regular Thursday meeting, voted 5-2 against extending a moratorium through the end of this year on recreational marijuana business applications that are expected to be submitted to the city of Glenwood Springs.

That moratorium is now set to end Oct. 1, when municipalities and counties intending to allow recreational marijuana sales, cultivation and related activities are to have their own rules and regulations in place.

At that time, existing medical marijuana providers throughout Colorado can begin applying with the state and local jurisdictions to become the first to offer retail marijuana sales for recreational purposes starting on Jan. 1, 2014.

Council’s vote came after it heard from several Glenwood Springs medical marijuana dispensary owners who said that a continued local moratorium would put them in an unfair competitive position when it comes to offering recreational sales by that date.

“Let’s face it, some of us like to have a beer or two to relax, or some wine, and some of us like to have recreational marijuana,” said Dan Sullivan, co-owner of Green Medicine & Wellness, located at the corner of 11th and Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs.

While he said he still wholeheartedly believes in the beneficial medicinal qualities of marijuana, the addition of retail sales for recreational users will be important for the business to grow, he said.

“The state has done a very robust job of outlining the rules we have to follow, and there is not going to be this explosion of new businesses” that the city would have to contend with, Sullivan said.

Amendment 64 specifically allows existing medical marijuana outlets to be the first out of the gate as providers of recreational sales. Prospective new businesses have to wait an additional nine months, until October 2014, before they can seek licensing through the state and local jurisdictions.

“You only have five potential businesses that are already invested in your community,” Aspen attorney Lauren Maytin, who represents several medical marijuana businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley, said of the five dispensaries now operating in Glenwood Springs.

“It would be a shame to let red tape stand in the way of letting these people continue to be the responsible business owners they already are in your community,” she said in urging council not to extend the moratorium.

Though earlier leaning toward extending the moratorium in order to allow the city time to craft its own rules and regulations around the new recreational marijuana industry, a majority of council agreed Thursday that the existing businesses should be allowed to proceed.

“I’ve been extremely impressed by the businesses I have visited and their strict adherence to our regulations,” Councilman Mike Gamba said of the dispensaries’ compliance with the city’s regulatory controls over the industry.

“If we are going to have recreational sales in Glenwood Springs, then I would rather these five businesses get a head start over other, possibly less-responsible businesses,” Gamba said.

Glenwood Springs voters approved Amendment 64 in last fall’s election with nearly 60 percent in favor. The measure made it legal for those over age 21 to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana, and to eventually buy it from licensed retail outlets in the state once a regulatory framework is in place.

There is some question whether existing establishments can obtain either local or state licensing to begin offering recreational sales, because they opened before medical marijuana regulations were in place and are not in compliance with some provisions of those rules, City Attorney Jan Shute advised council members.

One city provision requires a 500-foot separation between medical marijuana businesses and schools. The new state regulations for recreational marijuana businesses requires a 1,000-foot setback.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that the city’s regulations have done a good job with the medical marijuana issue,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney said during the Thursday discussion.

The state could very well deny those businesses from expanding into the recreational marijuana trade based on the state’s own rules, “if they have concerns,” McKinney said.

“But I don’t see any merit in the city denying these businesses, which have already shown they can be a good tax-paying member of this community,” he said.

Council members Matt Steckler and Dave Sturges disagreed, and wanted to extend the moratorium through the end of the year.

“It’s easy for voters to say, yeah, we want recreational marijuana, but it’s not so easy to apply the rules,” Steckler said. “And we don’t have those rules in place yet. I think it’s prudent to wait until the state has everything in order.”

Fire tax question referred to voters

Also at the Thursday meeting, City Council voted 7-0 to refer to city voters in the Nov. 5 election a proposed five-year, 2 mill property levy. The new tax would go to support Glenwood Springs fire and EMS services, and help make up an annual $250,000 shortfall in reimbursements for ambulance transports.

Glenwood Springs resident John Haines questioned the need to ask for a new city tax.

“The fire department is right up there with baseball and hot dogs … but I look at this and I have to ask, where does it ever stop?” Haines said. “There comes a point where we can’t keep paying more taxes.”

Councilman Todd Leahy said the council is only asking voters to decide the issue, but agreed with the other council members that it’s a reasonable request.

“This is a tax to maintain the current level of services, and is not for new equipment or anything else,” Councilman Gamba said, adding the sunset clause makes it easier to swallow.

“If we don’t do this, we are looking at a periodic closure of one of our three stations to cut costs,” Gamba said.

City fire officials have advised that such a cut in fire protection services could result in an increase in homeowner insurance rates equal to or more than the tax increase.

The Glenwood Springs Rural Fire District is also expected to forward a companion question to voters in the rural areas asking to also increase its tax rate by 2 mills. It would be intended to make up a funding shortfall brought on by the decrease in property valuations in recent years.

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