Boulder City Council: No ban on recreational pot shops for now

Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado)

BYLINE: Erica Meltzer Camera Staff Writer

 

Boulder won’t move to ban recreational marijuana stores, at least for now.

That means the city faces tight deadlines to come up with its own regulations and a small possibility that stores could open before those are in place, City Attorney Tom Carr said.

Despite the concerns of the city attorney, the Boulder City Council members held off on any action late Tuesday night, saying they needed more information and public input before they could even consider a ban.

Councilwoman Lisa Morzel cited the high level of support for Amendment 64 among Boulder voters as she said she could not in good conscience support a ban.

“Invoking a ban would be so non-democratic and would provoke the wrath of the public to such an extent that it would not be a good idea politically,” she said.

Carr has recommended the city not allow the stores because the window for the state to write its regulations and the city to start issuing business licenses is only a few months, which isn’t much time for a thorough public process around what regulations the city should adopt.

There’s also a slim possibility stores could open after the state approves its regulations this spring but before Boulder has regulations in place in the fall, he said.

In a memo to the City Council, he asked the council for feedback on what members would like to do and suggested they could revisit the issue in 2014, after the market and regulatory climate has evolved.

At the council meeting, Carr said moving slowly would be better for both the city and marijuana business owners.

“The challenge is there is a lot of uncertainty, and if our experience with medical marijuana taught us anything, it’s that we need to know what the rules are before we start making people jump through hoops,” he said.

Amendment 64 explicitly allows municipalities to ban retail marijuana stores within their borders.

A ban on stores in Boulder would not affect the amendment’s provisions decriminalizing possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or allowing people to grow up to six plants at a time.

Several people spoke during public comment to ask the council not to ban non-medical marijuana stores.

Patricia Malesh, of the Boulder County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that Boulder voters disproportionately supported Amendment 64.

Statewide, 54.8 percent of voters supported the amendment. In Boulder County, that number was 66.1 percent.

“We should tread very lightly when considering going against the will of the voters,” she said.

Councilman George Karakehian, who favored a temporary ban, said considering such a step doesn’t mean City Council members are disregarding the will of the people. It just means they want to make sure the industry that will develop around recreational marijuana is well regulated.

“We’re not talking about not allowing them to grow,” he said of Boulder residents. “We’re not talking about not allowing them to smoke in their own homes. We’re only talking about retail.”

Carr said Amendment 64 raises new issues for municipalities, and regulating recreational marijuana is more complicated than just transferring the medical marijuana regulations. For example, a dispensary is roughly equivalent to a pharmacy, while a recreational marijuana store is more like a liquor store or bar. That might affect where Boulder officials want to allow such businesses to locate, he said.

The city already has received inquiries from people interested in opening a private marijuana club with a smoking room, Carr said. The city needs to decide if it wants to allow such clubs, and if so, whether they should be banned from serving food or required to serve food.

“You’re going to have to serve food,” Morzel said, to laughs from the audience.

The city also doesn’t know how the state’s recreational marijuana rules will compare to the medical marijuana rules and how much authority the state will grant cities to make their own rules, if they allow marijuana businesses at all, Carr said.

Beyond regulation of retail outlets, Amendment 64 raises other questions. Medical marijuana is legal for people 18 and older, while recreational marijuana is legal only for people 21 and older. Carr said Boulder might need to develop a “minor in possession” municipal offense that mirrors the one it has for alcohol. The city also needs to consider whether it wants a ban on “open consumption,” similar to the “open container” law that restricts drinking in public, Carr said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has formed a task force to oversee the development of state regulations, and Boulder has requested representation on that task force.

The city also plans to hold more public meetings on the impacts of Amendment 64 early next year.

Shawn Coleman, former executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, said the City Council did the right thing in not moving forward with a ban.

So far, only Douglas County, where a majority of voters opposed Amendment 64, has adopted a ban.

Coleman, who also ran the Yes on 64 campaign, said the city has plenty of time to see how state regulations develop. He said Carr misinterprets Amendment 64 when he raises the possibility of stores opening without a city license.

If the city were to ban non-medical marijuana stores, even for a few years, it risks losing the experienced professionals who have made Boulder’s medical marijuana industry a model for the state, Coleman said.

“They want stability and predictability of business regulations just like any other business owners,” Coleman said.

 

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