Council passes marijuana sales ban


Staff Writer

The Pagosa Springs town council, by a 5-2 vote, passed the second reading of Ordinance 796, thereby banning all marijuana businesses from operating within town limits.

Town manager David Mitchem began by reading the title of Ordinance 796: “An ordinance of the Town of Pagosa Springs amending chapter 6 of the Pagosa Springs Municipal code by the addition thereto of a new Article 5 prohibiting the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana, including medical marijuana centers, optional premises cultivation operations and medical marijuana-infused products manufacturing, and a new Article 6 prohibiting the operation of marijuana clubs, marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities and retail marijuana stores; which ordinance will automatically expire on March 1, 2015, unless extended or readopted.”

Mitchem briefly outlined the discussions town council has had on this issue in the past, and then said he was open to any questions.

Council member David Schanzenbaker, who along with Councilor Clint Alley has been a vocal opponent of a marijuana ban, was the first to speak up.

“I don’t want to keep debating this,” Schanzenbaker said. “I would just like to mention that since our first reading of this ordinance we have gotten reports that the federal government came out to publicly state that they will not try to preempt Colorado’s or Washington’s recreational marijuana laws, so we’ve gotten some clear guidance from the feds now on this issue. Also, the final version of Colorado’s state regulations has been put out, so we do have a framework, if we ever do choose to move forward with this industry. I just want that to be on the record.”

“I think everybody knows how I feel about this issue,” council member Tracy Bunning responded, “so I’m not going to go into that, but in response to trustee Schanzenbaker’s statement, I don’t know how many people saw it, but the Republic of Boulder,” Bunning paused to give his sarcasm time to register, “in response to public opinion, has now enacted a moratorium.”

Alley then advocated waiting until the next town council meeting to approve the second reading of the ordinance, in light of new information from the state and the feds.

Councilor Don Volger countered, “The way the ordinance reads currently gives us until March 1, 2015, before the prohibition will expire. Something will have to be done in that year and a half period of time. Obviously, there will be a lot of things that filter out. It will also give us an opportunity to see which direction the town council is going to go on this issue, and if we decide to allow things we are prohibiting under this ordinance, then it will give us time to draft the appropriate regulations. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

Volger then made the motion to approve the second reading of Ordinance 796. Bunning seconded the motion. Schanzenbaker and Alley were the “Nay” votes.

Three days before the Pagosa Springs town council meeting, the Denver city council passed a bill setting up rules and regulations for the retail marijuana industry there.

“The whole world is watching, not just the country,” said Denver Councilman Charlie Brown, who led the council committee on the issue. “There will be some changes. It is a work in progress. We did what we could, but this is a huge unknown.”

“We believe that the Denver ordinance treats the industry fairly, promotes public safety, and respects the wishes of the voters,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. “We thank the city council members for their dedication and thoughtful consideration of all the issues.”

At an Aug. 23 work session, Pagosa Springs town council member Kathie Lattin argued for taking a wait-and-see approach, letting other communities allow retail operations and see if they experience any problems with it in the future. Maybe at a later date the town could reexamine the issue. “I don’t want our town to be known as the place to go to get pot while you’re soaking in the hot springs.”

It was also at that meeting when Volger flip-flopped on his position, stating, “At this point in time, even though I have stated before that I don’t see a problem with allowing one or two retail marijuana facilities in town, I’m sorry. When it comes right down to it, I think I am going to have to disappoint those who want to start a business here. Right now I am going to say I support a prohibition.”

After the work session, Schanzenbaker said, “I’m disappointed that the majority of the council continues to make decisions based on their personal beliefs first and the will of the people second.  Like the plan for the amusement park on Reservoir Hill, which never received broad support from the community yet continued on its path forward until the voters forced the council to listen, the issues of medical marijuana and the recent passage of Amendment 64, which also passed easily here in Archuleta County, again highlight a failure to take an honest look at how Pagosans feel before deciding on a way forward.  We simply can’t continue to act on behalf of the voter without taking into account their views on issues; they won’t allow it.”

There was debate at the work session regarding the intentions of the voters. In Archuleta County, 54 percent said “Yes” to Amendment 64, while 46 percent said “No.”

Also known as The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012, the exact language for the Amendment 64 ballot issue read: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning marijuana, and, in connection therewith, providing for the regulation of marijuana; permitting a person twenty-one years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana; providing for the licensing of cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores; permitting local governments to regulate or prohibit such facilities; requiring the general assembly to enact an excise tax to be levied upon wholesale sales of marijuana; requiring that the first $40 million in revenue raised annually by such tax be credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund; and requiring the general assembly to enact legislation governing the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp?”

Bunning explained his belief that many of those who voted for the amendment may have only voted for the first part — to decriminalize possession — but that they didn’t necessarily want to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their community.

Schanzenbaker, on the other hand, argued that if a voter had disagreed with any part of the amendment they would have voted “No,” so those who voted for it most likely agreed with all parts of it, including establishing regulations that would allow marijuana stores to operate under similar guidelines to liquor stores.

“As far as decriminalization,” Schanzenbaker argued, “it is legal to possess it right now, but if you don’t allow access for people to acquire it by a legal transaction, then you’re not decriminalizing it. How does a person who wants to possess it get it, if you don’t allow them to buy it?”