The Dillon Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to extend its moratorium on retail marijuana establishments, but with one key amendment.
Rather than have the moratorium expire Dec. 31, 2014 — as initially passed, 4-2, last month on first reading — the moratorium will now sunset Oct. 1, 2014. Council member Louis Skowyra, who represented one of the two dissenting votes a month ago, proposed the date change.
“I’m concerned about the message we are sending with this moratorium,” Skowyra said. “We say Dillon is open for business, and we can debate the morality of retail marijuana all day long, but 73 percent of our constituents told us they believe this is an OK business to have in town.”
Pushing the expiration date is key for a town like Dillon for several reasons.
According to Amendment 64, municipalities have until Oct. 1 to draft retail business licensing regulations, opt out of drafting regulations and revert licensing authority to the state or institute a moratorium on retail marijuana establishments. Municipalities that approve licensing regulations by October and currently house a medical marijuana dispensary can begin Jan. 1, 2014 accepting applications from dispensary owners who wish to convert to a retail establishment.
Municipalities that meet the Oct. 1 regulatory deadline, but do not currently have a medical marijuana dispensary can begin July 1, 2014 accepting applications for new retail marijuana business licenses.
Dillon does not fit into either of those criteria, said Dillon town manager Joe Wray, because it has opted not to draft regulations by the October deadline, deciding instead to wait until clear regulations are approved at the state level. However, by passing a moratorium the town of Dillon maintains its power as the local licensing authority should it decide to allow retail marijuana establishments in the future.
Furthermore, because Dillon is not drafting regulations and does not currently house a medical marijuana dispensary, the soonest it could begin accepting new business applications would be Oct. 1 of next year, hence Skowyra’s contention with the moratorium’s original Dec. 31, 2014 expiration.
“My vote is not intended to slow down what the voters asked for,” he said. “The state left us in legislative limbo and it is not my intention, in voting for this moratorium, to slow down for even one day someone from opening a retail marijuana establishment in Dillon.”
Prior to passing the amended moratorium, council opened the floor to local residents to express their opinions about the proposed ordinance and recreational marijuana in general.
Linda Wimbush not only voiced her support for the moratorium, but also for an all out ban on retail marijuana businesses in town. She argued previous town councils invested a significant amount of taxpayer money to build a reputation that Dillon is a family friendly community.
“I don’t think we need to tarnish that image,” she said. “Especially when people can take the bus or drive to a neighboring community to purchase marijuana.”
Bernie Zurbriggen, a former mayor of the town of Frisco, took the opposite stance. Although not a marijuana user himself, he asked Dillon Town Council members to stop the moratorium immediately and to consider the revenue it could generate if regulated like any other agricultural crop.
“We decided in 1937 to make a naturally occurring plant illegal and it was done for all the wrong reasons,” he said. “We’ve been given the opportunity to do this right, to facilitate proper production of the product. The rest of the country will soon follow our lead (in making marijuana legal) and if we come together as a county we can show the rest of the country how to create a robust, competitive marketplace for this product.”
But town of Dillon Mayor Ron Holland said being careful about how the town regulates marijuana in the future is exactly why council considered a moratorium extension.
“We’re not depriving people of marijuana because soon you’ll be able to get it two miles down the road,” he said. “A moratorium doesn’t say ‘no,’ it just puts it off until the state really gets its act together.
“Nothing irritates me more than passing a law and having no idea how to enforce it.”
Having the moratorium in place doesn’t necessarily mean council can’t act until its self-imposed deadline of Oct. 1, 2014, added council member Mark Nickel. Should the retail marijuana environment change and council decides to move in a new direction, the moratorium can be pulled at anytime by a majority vote of its members.