Council prepares marijuana sales ban


Staff Writer

Both medical and retail marijuana businesses will be banned from within the town limits of Pagosa Springs once town council approves the second reading of Ordinance 796; it approved the first reading of the ordinance at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

This turn of events comes after two of the council members reversed their opinions during an Aug. 23 work session.

Ordinance 796 is titled, “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.”

Except for the last clause, which provides an expiration date on the ban, this ordinance is exactly the same as Ordinance 788, which was championed by Town Manager David Mitchem and Mayor Ross Aragon earlier this year, but failed to gain enough votes to pass a second reading on April 18.

At that time, council member Don Volger said, “All we’re doing by passing this ordinance is making a statement that we are against marijuana. That may not be a bad statement to make, but I’m not willing to do that when there are a majority of people in the state of Colorado who disagree with me. So therefore I think this is premature. We can wait. When it all comes down to it, I think we can safely allow a retail shop, maybe two.”

Ordinance 788 was shot down in April when Volger and council member Kathie Lattin joined fellow member David Schanzenbaker in voting “Nay” to the motion made by Darrel Cotton, seconded by Tracy Bunning, and supported by the mayor. Council member Clint Alley was absent from that meeting, so it was a 3-3 tie, which meant the ordinance was killed.

However, at the Aug. 23 work session, both Volger and Lattin changed sides.

“At this point in time,” Volger announced, “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.”

Lattin argued for taking a wait-and-see approach, letting other communities allow retail operations and seeing 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.”

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 some debate at the work session regarding the true intentions of the voters. In Archuleta County, 54 percent of the electorate 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?”

However, at Tuesday night’s meeting Mitchem presented the council with two options — a permanent ban on issuing business licenses for marijuana stores, or a ban with a future expiration date. When Volger made a motion to accept the ordinance it was for the second option, forcing the council to reexamine the issue before March 1, 2015.

During the earlier work session, Bunning proposed, “We need time to get feedback from the constituents of the town of Pagosa Springs. I’m going to suggest people let us know what their thoughts are. By extending the moratorium to that point I imagine we could get it on the ballot in November of 2014.”

While most of the council agreed with the idea of getting a clearer mandate from the people regarding their feelings about having marijuana stores in town, Cotton disagreed. “I am opposed to taking it to the voters. The voters elected us to make the decisions. If we don’t have the cajones to step up and make the decisions — if we’re going to make them make the decisions — then all we need is someone to count the votes every time something comes up. If they don’t like what we do then they will unelect us.”

When Bunning seconded Volger’s motion Tuesday night, he clarified his position by adding, “I understand councilman Schanzenbaker’s position on the medical marijuana issue, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but we heard a couple weeks ago that we have one medical marijuana facility in the county and the county is currently considering the possibility of including two more. I think that should take care of the legitimate medical marijuana needs of our area.”

Earlier in the discussion Schanzenbaker had argued that if the council was dead set on establishing a ban instead of regulations as set forth in Amendment 64, they should at least separate out the issue of medical marijuana, which already has a proven track record in the state and in the county however, the rest of the council disagreed, and voted to ban both types of operations.

After the meeting, Bill Delaney, who owns the only medical marijuana dispensary in the county, told SUN staff, “Some things never change. I think a vote of the people is the only way that the council will swallow it, and that will let them off the hook with their constituents.

“Personally, I’m relieved from a business standpoint.  I was going to have to hurry up and open something I’m not quite prepared to, just to keep up with others.”

Delaney went on to explain that his business has recently experienced a spike in elderly patients obtaining medical marijuana cards and purchasing products from his facility.

“A couple of days ago,” Delaney continued, “two representatives from the Senior Center came out to visit with me and said that MJ is all the buzz at their senior lunches. They asked me to come down and give a talk and answer questions.

“I spoke there about a year and a half ago and there was a pretty good turnout then. I expect it will be even more so this time. It’s at one o’clock on Tuesday, the tenth of September, at the Silver Foxes Den. The event title is: ‘Marijuana. Is it right for seniors?’”