Rifle City Council to discuss marijuana regs
RIFLE — City Council will enter Wednesday poised for an open-ended conversation on the city’s marijuana regulations with the intent of providing some direction to staff on how to proceed.
That direction could range from leaving the current regulations — which ban the retail sale of marijuana and limit the number of cultivation facilities to four — as is, to opening the door to the industry, for which several local business owners and residents have lobbied.
Among other reasons, supporters cite the potential economic value from tax revenue and, as Rifle resident Cohen Small told City Council in late April, the potential it could have on other businesses such as contractors.
In addressing concerns about use by children, Kirk Swallow, owner of Swallow Oil Co., pointed out the city could use tax revenue for education and prevention programs. He asked the councilors to consider the viewpoints of local business owners.
City Council decided to revisit the issue in early April in response to inquiries from Swallow and others about lifting the city’s ban on retail stores.
While some of the dozen or so people who spoke at the meeting in late April supported allowing retail sales, others, including several former members of council who voted to enact the current regulations in 2013, urged councilors to leave the ban in place.
“I’m adamantly opposed to the retail sale of marijuana in the city of Rifle,” said Jay Miller, a former councilor and mayor.
Jonathan Rice, a longtime former member of council and a teacher a Rifle High School, joined Miller in opposing retail marijuana, while noting the gravity of the topic.
“I’m really, really nervous because this is a really, really big deal. And, sitting up there, I kind of said the same thing, that I think this is, if not the most important issue … in my time on council, it’s up there.”
He spoke passionately about the impact of legalized marijuana on the area’s children, who are “crying out” for direction from adults on the permissibility of marijuana use.
“The homes that are struggling … marijuana is a big component in a lot of those homes — those dysfunctional families, there’s marijuana all throughout those dysfunctional families,” Rice said. “And I don’t know the stats but I feel pretty safe in saying significantly more marijuana is present in those homes than in homes that aren’t struggling.”
City staff has so far held off on doing an in-depth analysis on the potential economic and societal impacts of allowing retail marijuana — opting instead to wait for some direction from City Council.
One possibility suggested by Dan Sullivan, owner of multiple marijuana businesses in Garfield County, would be to allow the five medical dispensaries currently operating in Rifle to apply for a retail sales license.
“I would like to consider that there might be a two-year hold just to let those that are already in that business stay in that business,” he said at the meeting. “We’ve done our dues and we’ve proven ourselves I think as good citizens and good corporate folk, and we want to continue along with that. So I don’t think you have to open the floodgates and I would ask you not to open the floodgates.”
Sullivan’s suggestion followed concerns from Gary Miller, owner of Miller’s Dry Goods, about the potential increase in marijuana businesses in the city — especially in areas visible from Interstate 70.
“I don’t want to see the number of locations in Rifle double or even added too, quite honestly, whatsoever,” Miller said.
Allowing the existing dispensaries to sell retail marijuana would address the issue of limiting the footprint of the marijuana industry in the city, Sullivan said, adding that he thought more community input was crucial to the discussion.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to try and hear if there are voices in the community that in fact don’t always show up at these kinds of events,” Sullivan said at the meeting, “and so maybe that’s something we can work on to try and give you better scope of what the community and the local citizens are looking for.”
For the most part, city staff followed council’s lead at the late April meeting and refrained from the conversation, with the exception of the Rifle Police Department. Detective Sgt. Mike Tyler read a statement drafted by Rifle Police Chief John Dyer on behalf of the department.
“In general, we have serious concerns about the recreational sales program from both a public safety and public health perspective,” Tyler said in reading in the letter. “We have seen the impacts of the growing substance abuse problem in the Rifle area. We believe that actions we can take to strengthen community health is beneficial to the city in numerous ways and that allowing recreational sales would add to the challenges we are facing for individual, family and community health and safety. I look forward to being part of this conversation as we attempt to do what is beneficial to all Rifle citizens.”
That conversation will start at 6 p.m. Wednesday during a work session and continue during the regular meeting slated to start at 7 p.m.
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