Rifle council says no to retail pot stores

Ryan Hoffman
Marijuana plants grow at a cultivation facility in Rifle.
Ryan Hoffman / Citizen Telegram |

RIFLE — City Council is content with the status quo regarding marijuana businesses for the time being.

Council on Wednesday declined to act on several requests to allow retail stores, which are currently banned. Instead, it directed staff to clean up the codes in order to limit the number of medical stores to the current five and cap the number of cultivation facilities at the current four, all of which have licenses to grow medical and recreational marijuana.

While the current ordinances limit the number of existing recreational grows to four, the town has no limit on medical cultivation facilities, aside from zoning restrictions. And although there is an effective cap on the number of medical dispensaries in the central business district, the code includes no limit on the overall number within the broader city limits.

Council revisited the issue after several local business and property owners publicly approached the city about the possibility of allowing retail stores, more cultivation facilities and other types of marijuana businesses, such as manufacturing facilities.

“I think we should continue our focus and I really am concerned about the appearance, the function of the city, and our general health.”

Councilor Joe Elliott

In reopening the discussion, the majority of feedback, both private and public, opposed allowing recreational stores in the city, Mayor Randy Winkler said during a work session before the meeting.

Most of the interest came from business and property owners who are either already affiliated with the industry or have interest in renting their property to a marijuana business, and those people do not live in Rifle, Winkler added.

During an April meeting, council did hear from several residents who supported allowing retail marijuana and did not express a direct affiliation with the industry.

Still, the multitude of letters and remarks since then have opposed retail stores, several members of council noted.

There was some variation in their reasoning, but all seven members of council, speaking in the work session, unanimously agreed to keep things as is.

Mayor Pro-Tem Barb Clifton said she did not have an issue with the general concept of retail marijuana, but she has yet to see an effective and practical model for regulating those businesses.

Now less than four years after Colorado voters’ approval of Amendment 64, many municipalities and counties across the state continue to grapple with regulating retail marijuana. Clifton clarified she did not have a problem with allowing more recreational cultivation facilities but would be fine with keeping the current limit.

None of the other six members of council expressed a desire to expand the number of recreational grows in the city. Some councilors took a more ardent stance against retail marijuana in general.

“I can’t support recreational marijuana in my community and I won’t,” Councilor Ed Green said after echoing concerns shared by Rifle Police Chief John Dyer on the societal impacts of retail marijuana.

Rifle already has a large drug culture, and allowing retail stores would add to that problem, Dyer said. Although residents can drive to neighboring Silt or Parachute, there is a correlation between acceptance and the amount of usage, and retail stores in Rifle would serve as a stamp of approval for use, the chief said.

While nearby communities, such as Parachute and De Beque, have sought short-term economic salvation during difficult times, Rifle’s financial situation is not as dire, and some councilors questioned the net benefit after considering the increased workload for city staff, as well as the cost of combating potential impacts, such as youth prevention education.

Councilor Joe Elliott worried that the marijuana issue would be a distraction and derail other efforts in Rifle.

“I do not want to allow retail sales right now,” Elliott said in the work session. “I think we should continue our focus and I really am concerned about the appearance, the function of the city, and our general health.”

While council agreed it will not be distracted with the marijuana issue, there is still a possibility of a petition effort to put the matter before voters. Such an effort would have to be spurred by the public.

Jim Neu, city attorney, told council he expects to have a draft of the marijuana code revisions in a month.

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