Rifle council freezes pot operations | PostIndependent.com

Rifle council freezes pot operations

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

RIFLE — In keeping with opinions voiced in early May, City Council passed an emergency ordinance last week temporarily banning any new licenses for medical marijuana facilities.

The ban, which covers medical stores, cultivation centers and manufacturing facilities, runs through August unless council decides to repeal or amend it before then.

The move comes more than a month after council declined to revise the city’s codes to allow for recreational marijuana stores, and directed staff to revise the codes to ensure the number of marijuana businesses stays at the current level.

The emergency ordinance aims to do just that.

Rifle already prohibits recreational stores and limits the number of recreational cultivation facilities to the four currently operating in the city. But other than zoning restrictions, the city does not limit the number of medical cultivation licenses. There is a cap on the number of medical stores allowed in the central business district, but the code places few limitations limits on medical stores outside of that boundary.

While Jim Neu, city attorney, informed council in early May that code revisions capping those numbers would likely be presented in a month, he said on Wednesday that the changes will not come before council until August.

The emergency ban was needed, Neu said, because the city received inquires about applying for a medical cultivation license.

Neu said there is legal precedent — known as the pending ordinance doctrine — for a municipality to deny applications for licenses or permits when a pending ordinance that would prohibit the use being requested.

However, in light of the fact the city was approached, Neu felt it wise to pass an emergency ban. He would have proposed something earlier, but said he did not foresee anyone expressing interest in a medical marijuana cultivation center or store.

“I didn’t think the market wanted this but maybe it does,” Neu said, “but it goes against the policy direction that council stated.”

Those market assumptions are not baseless.

Despite voters approving medical marijuana 12 years prior to passing the legalization of recreational marijuana, there are only 364 more medical businesses than retail, with 1,551 medical business in the state compared with 1,187 retail businesses as of June 1, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

In neighboring Parachute, pretty much 100 percent of the applications since repealing the town’s outright ban on marijuana have been for retail businesses, said Stuart McArthur, town manager.

There is interest in medical cultivation in the future, but so far nothing has been formally submitted in Parachute. McArthur noted that the town does not allow medical dispensaries, but it does allow other medical marijuana facilities.

Since the ban in Rifle was an emergency ordinance it required approval by a supermajority of council. It passed unanimously, with Mayor Randy Winkler absent. The ban went into effect immediately following the vote.

“I normally do not like doing emergency ordinances,” Neu said, “but we need this to take effect immediately. … It just gives surety to the community this is the direction we’re going in, don’t waste your time trying to get in before the gate closes.”

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