Carbondale dives into debate on recreational pot regulation
Glenwood Springs Post Independent Contributor
CARBONDALE — With retail pot shops likely to open in Colorado by early next year, the Carbondale trustees on Tuesday night dove headlong into a debate about how to regulate Carbondale’s recreational marijuana industry.
The board appears unlikely to ban the recreational pot shops approved with the passage of Amendment 64 last November, but the trustees will likely make rules governing the number, size and location of shops, as well as the fee required to open a recreational store.
The trustees are facing an Oct. 1 deadline to draft local rules governing the recreational pot industry. That’s the date when the state will start accepting applications for recreational pot retail stores, grow operations and product-manufacturing facilities.
Colorado’s local jurisdictions are free to regulate many aspects of the legal pot business, and on Tuesday night Carbondale’s elected officials offered a glimpse into the kind of industry they’d like to see in town.
“The zone districts where medical marijuana is allowed now, I don’t see why we wouldn’t allow recreational marijuana in those same zones,” said Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot.
Medical pot cultivation operations are now allowed in Carbondale’s commercial/industrial zone districts. Medical dispensaries aren’t allowed in first floor spaces that face Main Street or Highway 133.
The mayor expressed support for the idea that the owners of medical pot dispensaries should be able to operate recreational and medical shops out of the same facility, as long as there’s clear division between the two and operators are properly licensed.
She also said the board should put a limit on the total number of recreational stores allowed in Carbondale.
“I don’t want it capped at three, because that wouldn’t allow for new businesses,” she said, referring to the fact that there are already three medical marijuana dispensaries operating in town that may make the switch to selling recreational weed.
Under a bill passed by the Colorado legislature this spring, existing medical marijuana dispensary operators may apply for a recreational license on Oct. 1, and the state must respond by Jan. 1, 2014. Those not currently in the medical marijuana market have to wait until July 2014 to apply, meaning that medical pot professionals could have the recreational market to themselves for as long as nine months.
“The state law is already giving medical pot a jump on the market,” said Trustee Allyn Harvey. “Let’s not give medicals who want to convert any more of a grace period.”
The trustees also talked about whether to limit the size of marijuana growing operations.
While Colorado’s medical marijuana dispensaries are required to grow 70 percent of the product they sell, no such “vertical integration” rules apply to the recreational market, meaning that large wholesale growers could soon begin to surface in the state to serve multiple retail shops.
Still, trustee John Foulkrod was opposed to the idea of legislating the size of grow operations.
“We don’t have any rule that says how big your liquor store has to be,” he said by way of comparison.
“In Carbondale, you can make as much beer as you damn well please. If a guy goes and grows 80,000 [marijuana] plants, the size of his establishment is not determined by our rules, it’s determined by the market.”
The trustees on Tuesday night didn’t discuss whether to levy taxes on recreational pot operations over and above what the state charges.
A question on the November 2013 election ballot will ask Colorado voters whether they want to impose a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale pot and a 10 percent sales tax on retail pot transactions.
Rather than regulate recreational shops, local governments in Colorado can ban them altogether, but the Carbondale trustees don’t appear likely to go that route.
In all three of the Garfield County voting precincts that include the town of Carbondale, voters approved Amendment 64 by margins of between 68 and 72 percent, a mandate that was reflected in the tone of the trustees’ discussion Thursday night.
“When the town votes 70 percent in favor of Amendment 64, I think the stigma is no longer there,” said trustee Frosty Merriot. “Why are we hiding it? Because we’re just pretending that 70 percent of people didn’t vote for it?”
The trustees will continue to debate rules for legal pot at a meeting sometime in July.
Mental health help?
In other news on Tuesday, the trustees discussed what should be done with $8,450 in public funds earned since 2011 by a surcharge on liquor and medical marijuana licenses. Roaring Fork High School Principal Drew Adams asked the board for a donation to help hire a full time mental health counselor to serve Carbondale schools. Various trustees expressed support for donations between $8,000 and $15,000, but no vote was taken.
The trustees will take up the question again at their meeting on June 25.
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