Editorial: Glenwood’s pot rules can’t be a popularity contest | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: Glenwood’s pot rules can’t be a popularity contest


As we urged in another editorial on June 1, if City Council wants to take a bold step to make Glenwood Springs more family-friendly, not to mention healthier for its merchants and residents, it will ban cigarette smoking in a designated downtown area. Boulder and Fort Collins have done this, and it would generate positive publicity for Glenwood, perhaps nationally. One concern about legal marijuana is people lighting up near shops. A ban on all smoking could ease enforcement — illegal pot smokers couldn’t cover up with cigarettes, which have been proven harmful to smokers and non-smokers alike. C’mon council, be brave: Snuff the smokes.

Any major new public policy is going to require adjustments as unforeseen consequences inevitably reveal themselves.

That’s happening now in Glenwood Springs as the town grapples with how to handle a boom in applications for legal marijuana operations that exposed concerns about the city’s rules.

Fortunately, the Glenwood City Council, which already is examining the issue, has a chance to make relatively rapid changes and get things right going forward. The council, which has been generally receptive to marijuana operations, needs to balance public concerns with the need for a predictable business environment.

It is on that latter point where the biggest flaw in city rules became obvious last week. City hearing officer Angela Roff rejected applications from two businesses that were, overall, in compliance with city code. However, the ordinance also requires that proposals meet “the desires of the adult inhabitants” of the town, and because several people opposed the applications at a hearing, Roff sided with them.

This is a dangerous precedent and a bad way to run a town.

The desires of adult inhabitants of town were gauged in the 2012 election, when about 60 percent of local residents supported Amendment 64, which made recreational marijuana legal in the state. Moreover, the city had an election in April with a majority of council seats up, and no one made the town’s direction on marijuana an issue. Had a true majority of Glenwood’s adult inhabitants been agitated about the direction marijuana regulation was taking, an anti-pot candidate would have emerged or at least one person would have written a letter to the editor urging votes for candidates who would change course.

None of that happened, so it’s up to the elected council to lead — not to defer to a squishy provision that lets one person be swayed by the loudest voices.

We have to question Roff’s ability to truly gauge “the desires of the adult inhabitants” of Glenwood from a hearing on May 13 when the people who showed up, other than the business people applying for the new licenses, opposed the applications.

It will always be the case that opponents of particular proposals will be more motivated than people who are OK with the status quo.

The folly of this provision is easy to see if we apply the concept to all development proposals — what is the apparent will of the public, as best we can determine by who shows up at a hearing, starts a petition drive or distributes fliers — for a building, a zoning change or, say, a new bridge?

For purposes of illustration (recognizing that the provision doesn’t apply here), if Roff had been asked to rule on whether the city should continue working with the Colorado Department of Transportation on a new Grand Avenue bridge, she would have pulled the plug based on comments at a November public information meeting.

A rule empowering NIMBYs, naysayers and anti-growthers would take Glenwood Springs down the path of Aspen, where residents last month passed a referendum that the Aspen Times said strips the City Council “of the ability to grant variances on height, mass, parking and affordable housing without a public vote.”

That’s a recipe for infighting and stagnation. Maybe that’s fine for Aspen (though we doubt it, and it’s not much our concern), but we want our council to set firm rules that residents and business people can count on.

Marijuana sales are a legal business in Colorado, and Glenwood Springs has decided to allow them. Those business people and investors deserve as predictable a regulatory environment as a restaurateur or a car dealer.

As we said in our earlier editorial, it is reasonable for the council to consider whether the stores are bad for the town’s image, children and tourist trade.

The concerns raised by businesses that don’t want marijuana stores as neighbors are worth considering. The council should decide if it needs to increase required distances between pot shops, between shops and schools or churches, or needs to restrict their locations overall.

While we generally believe that the city should let the market sort out how many of these stores the town can support, a refinement of rules makes sense. That should include eliminating the provision that asks one person to impossibly gauge the sentiment of the community on specific proposals.

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