New Castle council votes to permit marijuana businesses, but not right away

John Colson
Post Independent Staff

NEW CASTLE — The town council here voted unanimously on Tuesday night to allow certain types of marijuana-related businesses, excepting retail shops, to operate within the town boundaries.

But, at the same time, the council voted to impose a moratorium on such businesses — including cultivation, manufacturing edible products and testing of marijuana variants — until August or September 2014, which also is when the council expects to reconsider whether to permit marijuana retail sales shops in town.

On Feb. 5, the council passed a moratorium on applications for retail marijuana shops in town that is to expire in the fall of 2014.

As in other communities across Colorado, the town is working out how it will deal with a state constitutional amendment, passed last year by the voters, to allow the growth, sale and use of marijuana as a recreational drug, by anyone over 21 years of age

The council’s two decisions on Tuesday came on the heels of recommendations by the New Castle Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) that the council should permit the non-retail businesses to operate in certain commercial zones, and should pass an ordinance submitted by the P&Z to that effect.

But instead of agreeing with the P&Z recommendations, at least two of the council members spoke against them.

Councilor Bob Gordon remarked that he was “really surprised” at the P&Z recommendation, in light of the council’s earlier decision to put retail shops on hold for a year.

“I thought we used some wisdom on what we passed about the sales of it,” he remarked.

After considerable discussion of the issues involved, Councilor Mary Metzger moved to “not accept the recommendations of the commission,” though her motion did not indicate what the council’s next move might be if her motion were to pass.

The motion failed, however, on a 3-3 vote (Councilor Bruce Leland was absent), with Mayor Frank Breslin and Councilors Pat Stuckey and Greg Russi voting against it. Councilors Metzger, Gordon and Art Riddile voted in favor of the motion.

“This is legalized commerce,” Breslin said about the matter. “And this is an opportunity for the public to speak in a public hearing and have their say and decide if it’s a form of proper commerce for the town, rather than the town council making a decision either against it or for it.”

During the discussion, town attorney Dave McConaughy told the council members, “If we’re going to go ahead and pass that zoning ordinance, it would be my recommendation to simultaneously adopt a licensing scheme” that would address the town’s concerns about the ramifications of having pot shops in operation.

Those concerns, McConaughy said, include the need for fairly beefy security to discourage thieves, and the payment of municipal fees to offset the town’s costs in regulating the businesses.

The council has until Oct. 1 to pass the appropriate law or laws, McConaughy said. If no local laws are in place by then, he said, state law might permit pot-related businesses to apply and be approved without New Castle’s involvement.

“If you do nothing by Oct. 1,” he emphasized, “then you have no licensing scheme, and if the state issues a license, you’re stuck with it.”

Mayor Breslin noted that, as proposed, the P&Z resolution would make the three types of businesses “conditional uses” within the zone districts, meaning the council would be in charge of approving or denying business permits.

“The town has all the power,” Breslin noted.

And, pointed out McConaughy, “None of these three businesses would be open to the public” for retail sales, but would be restricted to wholesale operations supplying pot shops in other communities.

It was Stuckey who suggested the council could pass ordinances to regulate the businesses, but simultaneously impose a moratorium of a year or more and work out the zoning and other issues during that year.

The motion, made by Riddile, passed unanimously.

In other action, the council:

• Approved liquor licenses for the upcoming Burning Mountain Festival and Chili Cook-Off celebration.

• Agreed to amend the town’s codes to permit dogs in Burning Mountain Park on a trial basis, though the prohibition against dogs in the park could be reinstated for certain events.

• Adopted the Garfield County law limiting idling of government fleet vehicles within town limits.

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