Parachute trustees OK 2 retail pot licenses |

Parachute trustees OK 2 retail pot licenses

Ryan Hoffman

PARACHUTE — An open seat has been hard to come by at town trustee meetings the past three months. That trend continued Thursday when the board moved full steam ahead on bringing the marijuana industry to town by approving the first two retail licenses — a move that came after trustees voted to send an ordinance that could reinstitute a ban on such businesses to the 2016 general election ballot.

The precarious situation is partially due to the effort by Let the People Vote, a citizen initiated group that gathered enough signatures for a ballot initiative repealing the town’s marijuana regulations and effectively restoring the ban that existed up until this summer.

The group’s success brought the issue before trustees, giving them the option to vote on it, potentially expediting the process and avoiding the need to put the issue on the ballot.

Trustees voted 4-1 to deny the ordinance, consequently sending it the ballot. Trustee Daniel Manzanares was the sole vote in favor of repealing the town’s marijuana ordinances that evening. Manzanares also was one of the two dissenting votes when trustees voted in June to repeal the town’s ban.

Following Thursday’s vote on the ordinance, trustees convened as the local marijuana licensing authority to consider two applications for retail marijuana licenses. After hearing from both applicants, as well as members of the public — a majority of whom raised concerns about the proposals and broader marijuana issue — the board approved both applications.

The end result is the town finds itself poised to vote on banning businesses that will likely be up and operating — a potential first in Colorado, which has served as a testing ground for legal recreational marijuana in the country.

Recall a possibility

The issue has been a divisive one for some community members who have turned out in droves to trustee meetings that historically have been sparsely attended. Thursday’s meeting started on a tense note, with Parachute resident and marijuana opponent Ron Jarrett stating that a recall effort could be an option.

“There’s one other possibility,” Jarrett said. “If you don’t want to listen to those you’re supposed to serve then there’s enough time between now and January 2016 for us to organize a recall petition drive. We understand that it would take about 12 to 16 signatures to recall most of you. Can you find that … many Parachute citizens to sign a petition tonight? I think we probably could.”

While Jarrett said his statement was not a threat or blackmail, Trustee Tom Rugaard said that’s exactly what it was.

“I for one won’t put up with a threat and again I’ll set the record straight,” he said.

The previous meetings were properly noticed, and residents had the opportunity to comment prior to the decision, Rugaard said.

Some opponents have accused trustees of selling out and bringing in an undesired industry for revenue; all without allowing residents to have a say in the decision.

Trustees have sternly disputed claims that residents lacked the opportunity to comment on the issue. The trustees who voted for the marijuana ordinance have stood by the decision, citing a lack of other options that could immediately provide money to the town, which is experiencing a dramatic drop in sales tax revenue — down nearly 21 percent in 2015 compared to the same period last year.

A memo from Town Manager Stuart McArthur, who was away Thursday night due to a family emergency, stated the town has already collected approximately $30,000 in application fees alone.

However, it’s more than just revenue, Rugaard said. Regardless of whether or not marijuana is legally sold in Parachute, marijuana is still legal to grow and use in one’s private residence. Money raised from sales can be used for education purposes and other efforts, Rugaard said.

Additionally, legal sales of recreational marijuana are heavily regulated, unlike unlicensed illegal drug dealers who can put whatever they want in the marijuana they sell.

‘Following the code’

Pam Jarrett, one of the Parachute residents behind the petition effort, and others also raised concerns with two licenses applications approved Thursday. Erinn Tanner, a Battlement Mesa resident and teacher at the Grand Valley Center for Family Learning School, said she was concerned about the proximity of one of the proposed businesses — The Cannabist Castle Supermarket & Dispensary Lounge, LLC — to the learning center.

Using the quickest direct pedestrian route, the proposed site is 692 feet from the school, above the 500 foot requirement in the town’s marijuana regulations, according to a map provided by the applicant. While the applicant is sympathetic to concerns, he is following the rules set out by the town in the code, said John Dyet, business adviser to the Cannabist Castle. “The applicant is just following the code,” he said.

Trustees approved the application on a 3-2 vote, with Rugaard, who said he was uncomfortable with the location’s proximity to the school, joining Manzanares in opposing the application.

Opponents voiced many of the same concerns when the second applicant — Parachute Green Joint LLC — came before the board. Dan Sullivan, owner and CEO of Green Joint, made similar points, saying he followed the provisions in the code.

Parachute resident Ralph Archuleta spoke in favor of the business during the second hearing. Archuleta said he moved to the valley five years ago to take a job in the oil and gas industry. After losing his job, he recently completed the “very technical” process of obtaining the license necessary for working in a marijuana store. Archuleta said he was excited about the prospect of jobs coming to town.

Sullivan said his proposed business — which will have an adjoining space for a restaurant — will create between 20 to 30 new jobs.

Trustees approved the license on a 4-1 vote, with Manzanares voting against it.

The Jarretts, both visibly distraught after the meeting, said they would continue to fight the issue, but were uncertain if they would go through with the recall process or a potential lawsuit — efforts that would require money. They will continue to attend meetings, Pam Jarrett said, and register people to vote leading up to the 2016 election.

“I think we can keep it up,” she said.

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