Rifle takes aim at pot businesses
Rifle Citizen Telegram Editor
Retail marijuana stores will be banned in Rifle, along with other related businesses, with the exception of marijuana cultivation operations.
At their Oct. 2 meeting, City Council directed ordinances be written to address the issues brought up by Colorado voters’ passage of Amendment 64 in 2012, which legalized the use and sale of small amounts of marijuana to adults. The amendment also gave local governments the option of banning such businesses or placing the question before local voters in 2014.
City Councilman Jonathan Rice noted the wording of the amendment meant the will of the people of Colorado was to leave the final decision up to each municipality and county.
“I’ve always felt that one of the worst things government can do is get in the way of private business,” he added. “But with great reluctance, I have to say government needs to get in the way with this business.”
Backers cite benefits
The informal direction, which is to be officially considered at the council’s Oct. 16 meeting, followed two public workshops on the topic, including an hour-long workshop before the Oct. 2 meeting that included several of the city’s five medical marijuana and two marijuana cultivation business owners.
Dan Anglin, vice-president of operations for Green Cross Colorado, which operates a cultivation center in Rifle and manufactures “infused” marijuana and food products in Denver for distribution statewide, said his business employs four people in Rifle and would expand to meet demands if allowed to continue to operate in Rifle.
“We have one building here now, and we think we could expand to two or three,” Anglin added. “That means more property taxes, too.”
Anglin said his company paid $50,000 to the state and city for permit fees, taxes and other costs, in order to operate in Rifle.
“So financially, it is imperative for our investments to be competitive with the 550 state applications we’ve been told they expect,” Anglin said.
Mike Miller, co-owner of Green Cross Dispensary and Wellness Center, urged the council to not deprive themselves of sales tax revenue.
“Last year, I understand you received something like $100,000 from the five medical marijuana operators you have now,” he said. “You could quadruple that, or even increase it ten fold, depending on what tax rate you set and fees you charge, if you let this happen.”
Finance Director Charles Kelty disputed those sales tax numbers on Tuesday, Oct. 8. He said his records show the city received $55,000 in sales tax revenue from the five medical marijuana businesses last year and had received $48,000 through June of this year.
Miller said if the city did not allow recreational stores to operate, it would lose that sales tax revenue.
“And you’ll still be dealing with the impacts, because the marijuana is still going to come back” to Rifle, he said. “It’s still going to have to be policed” to try to keep it away from children.
Cari Meskin, the wife of Green Cross Dispensary and Wellness co-owner Dan Meskin, said the medicinal qualities of marijuana help cancer patients deal with chemotherapy side affects.
“We have a patient going through that now and he’s thinking he won’t renew his [medical marijuana registration] and just go to Glenwood [Springs] to buy it at a retail store,” she said. “All you’ll have here are more empty storefronts and the loss of tax revenue.”
Opponents speak up
Longtime Rifle resident John Scalzo said he worked most of his life in the liquor business, but left when he saw so many people buying it who couldn’t really afford it.
“That’s why I’m against the recreational use,” Scalzo said. “I just hate to see Rifle get into the drug business.”
Shelly Evans, a certified addictions counselor and executive director of the Community Health Initiatives program in Glenwood Springs, said she had treated members of 16 Rifle families since 2007, many with children involved in illegal substances.
“It isn’t the medical marijuana facilities where the kids are getting their pot,” she said. “It’s in their own homes, where their parents leave it where it can be found.”
“Don’t be naive and think you won’t have that and other problems here,” Evans added. “Underage drinking is incredibly difficult to regulate, just like this would be.”
Miller said keeping marijuana out of the hands of children needs to be addressed in homes.
“They’re not getting it at our stores,” he said. “No one under 18 walks through our doors. We’re very naive if we don’t think marijuana is going to flow into Rifle from Glenwood Springs and Silt. Whether adults buy it here or in other towns, it will come back. You’re still going to need treatment centers and enforcement.”
School Resource Officer Dustin Marantino said he had seen how big a problem prescription drug abuse is among youth “and that comes in child resistant packages, just like marijuana and the products they sell.”
“I’m greatly concerned at the prospect of Rifle condoning marijuana use by allowing these stores,” Marantino continued. “Once the availability goes up for those 21 and older, you’ll see use by youth go through the roof, too.”
Rifle resident Gary Osier urged the council to “not let the dollars that might be involved with this throw you one way or another.”
“They want you to sell your soul down the rosy red path of marijuana,” Osier added. “I don’t want you to allow the recreational sales of marijuana.”
Councilmembers voice opinions
Councilman Dirk Myers said, despite a memo from the U.S. Justice Department to Colorado and Washington state officials that said the agency would not prosecute marijuana businesses that followed state regulations, he was leery. But Myers and other councilmembers said they favored continuing to allow cultivation operations.
“They’re here already and they won’t go away,” Myers said. “They do generate property taxes and hire employees.”
Myers also expressed doubt the city’s existing medical marijuana businesses would relocate to Glenwood Springs or elsewhere that allows those businesses.
“They’d be competing with all the other marijuana businesses that are already there,” he explained. “That’s a real tough road to hoe.”
Councilwoman Barbara Clifton said she was unsure about allowing retail marijuana stores in Rifle.
“I do think we’ll see at least some of the same impacts if we allow them here or not,” she said. “When I was in college in a dry county down south, there was always alcohol around. It was bought over the county line and brought back, but the dry county didn’t get any revenue. It might be better to address things like this head on and be better able to address the impacts.”
Councilman Jay Miller said if the city allows retail sales of marijuana, it would send the wrong message to children.
Councilman Jonathan Rice called the issue the hardest and most important decision he’s had to make in 10 years on the council.
“For me, I find it very hard to get past my being in violation of my oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “I feel Colorado is in violation of federal law by allowing this, and that’s enough for me to say no.”
Councilman Hans Parkinson said the city was not putting anyone out of business by banning retail stores.
“I just can’t support this because I don’t want to give our kids one more opportunity to get into trouble,” he added. “I don’t represent the state or [Garfield County], and in Rifle, Amendment 64 did not pass,” losing by nine votes.
Councilman Rich Carter said he was opposed to retail sales of marijuana because his conscience wouldn’t allow it.
Mayor Randy Winkler said while he could see some advantages to allowing and regulating retail sales, he did not feel it was a correct move for Rifle to allow those businesses to operate.
City Attorney Jim Neu said the ordinance would likely limit the number of cultivation centers to the two already in place in light industrial zoned areas, and would include fees for such businesses.
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