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Pot growers gain narrow OK in Rifle

Mike McKibbin
Citizen Telegram Editor

By a tie-breaking vote, Rifle City Council gave final approval to an ordinance Wednesday, Nov. 6, that will allow four marijuana cultivation facilities to operate in the city.

Councilwoman Barbra Clifton broke a 3-3 tie by voting to approve the ordinance. Also voting yes were councilmen Rich Carter, Dirk Myers and Mayor Randy Winkler. Opposed were councilmen Jay Miller, Hans Parkinson and Jonathan Rice.

City Council, on a 6-1 vote with Clifton opposed, also gave final approval to an ordinance that bans all other types of retail marijuana businesses, including stores.

Colorado municipalities are allowed to take such action under the wording of Amendment 64, approved by state voters last year, that allowed the use, cultivation and sale of small amounts of marijuana to those 21 and older. The amendment does not apply to medical marijuana businesses, which were allowed under an amendment approved by voters several years ago.

Rice, who teaches government at Rifle High School, explained his concerns about both ordinances.

“It is powerfully evident to me that this asks us to approve something that’s against federal law,” he said.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, although the U.S. Justice Department recently issued a memo that basically said federal authorities would not enforce their marijuana laws, as long as Colorado and Washington state, where voters also legalized marijuana, regulate the drug.

“National supremacy has been given to federal law over and over by the courts,” Rice said. “We all took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and I can’t get past the fact that the State of Colorado, and now Rifle, will be violating federal law. We can’t encourage government to be a law breaker. It will just invite anarchy.”

“I’m not even a little OK with this,” he continued. “If Congress changes federal law, then we can discuss it. But this is putting the cart before the horse and it’s not supposed to run that way.”

While marijuana cultivation may be considered the “least impactful to Rifle,” Rice added, “it is still sent somewhere else and it will end up in the hands of someone’s kids. If it’s in more of their homes, it will end up in more of their hands.”

City Attorney Jim Neu wrote in his letter to the council about the ordinance that the only eligible applicants for a retail marijuana cultivation facility license are the city’s two existing medical marijuana cultivation operations, along with two applicants for a medical marijuana license. Those applicants received the required conditional use permit from the planning commission on Oct. 29. All such operations also require state permits.

The city ordinance also requires dual operation of a medical and retail license for these facilities, Neu noted. A new conditional use permit is not required for a conversion from medical to retail, he added, but an expansion of the facility will require a new permit. Licensees will also be required to reimburse the city for any inspection or clean-up costs the city incurs.

In other action, Rifle City Council:

• Directed city staff to write a letter supporting Garfield County’s Greater Sage Grouse mapping project that found 73 percent less suitable habitat for the birds than a draft Bureau of Land Management map. The federal agency is developing a Sage Grouse management plan to submit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which could rule the bird is either threatened or endangered. Such a ruling could bar energy resource activities over an 11-state region, including parts of the Roan Plateau west of Rifle. The letter of support for the county’s position will be considered by council on Nov. 20.

At a workshop prior to the meeting, numbers were presented that show more than $65 million in revenue is estimated to be generated by natural gas activities for Western Garfield County governments, including school and fire districts, the Grand River Hospital District, the county, towns of Parachute and Silt and city of Rifle. Those revenues could be at risk, said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, if the grouse is listed as endangered or threatened.

• Was presented with the 2014 proposed budget, which City Manager Matt Sturgeon said anticipates sales tax revenue to be flat, and the general fund calling for $8 million in expenditures, the same amount budgeted for this year.

“We anticipate a $1.3 million shortfall in the general fund, but our $3.7 million dollar fund balance is still fairly healthy,” Sturgeon said. “Compared to many cities in the state and nation, we’re doing quite well there. We think we’ll end 2014 with a reserved fund balance that could pay 46 percent of the city’s annual expenses, if we ever need to. Most municipalities want an amount to cover just 15 percent.”


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