Dillon officials quarrel over future of marijuana in town
Tensions among members of the Dillon Town Council are rising as officials reckon with the evolution of the marijuana industry in town.
Marijuana was the main topic of conversation during the Town Council meeting Tuesday, March 2, with a number of procedural items on the agenda meant to support the legalization of marijuana hospitality establishments, which were approved by the Town Council in September. But the discussion turned palpably contentious as a minority segment of the council took the opportunity to push back against the establishments and say they’d like to see a moratorium on any changes to marijuana restrictions in town.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Town Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the use of walk-up and drive-thru marijuana sales windows in town — a separate topic from the hospitality lounges — in a split 4-3 vote. Council members Karen Kaminski, Renee Imamura and Steven Milroy all voted against the measure.
If approved, the change would allow the town’s three existing marijuana dispensaries to add walk-up or drive-thru sales windows to their businesses, a new option this year due to changes to the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division’s regulations.
Immediately after the vote, during the resident comment period of the meeting, community members from Dillon and around Summit County came out in widespread opposition to the sales windows. Of the 20 residents who spoke or entered letters into the record, 19 said they were against the proposal. The lone supporter identified herself as a representative with the Native Roots dispensary in Dillon.
Community members shared concerns related to public health, potential impacts of normalizing marijuana use among the county’s youths and how the move would impact the town’s image.
“Summit County youth already are growing up in a more challenging party environment due to the nature of year-round tourism, already in danger of having no perception of harm around substance use, will regularly view people purchasing pot just as easily as if they were paying the gas station attendant or pulling through the Wendy’s drive-thru,” Catherine Smith of Silverthorne said. “It’s yet one more message, and one that will be in clear view, that getting pot is quick and easy.”
“When we decided to raise our family in Dillon, we did not do so because we wanted to live in the Summit County town that chose to make marijuana a major tourist draw,” Dillon resident Sean Butson added. “I do not believe this is in any way consistent with the brand residents want for our town. … Residents are overwhelmingly opposed to this ordinance, and the benefit to a couple businesses does not outweigh these opinions.”
Following resident comments, the council addressed three ordinances that emerged as a result of the marijuana consumption lounge ordinance approved in September, which would essentially establish additional parking requirements for the businesses, set water and tap fees, and adjust language in the town code to create an exception for marijuana consumption in public places.
All three ordinances passed in 4-3 votes, again with Kaminski, Imamura and Milroy dissenting in what Milroy later called “protest votes.”
“I voted for the hospitality facilities last time, but since then, we’ve been forced to really look at this marijuana issue over and over again,” Milroy said. “I don’t think it really adds any benefit to town. The negatives certainly outweigh any positives. So I won’t be voting for any marijuana regulations or related regulations like this one moving forward.”
However, Mayor Carolyn Skowyra felt the meeting wasn’t the proper battleground for the council members to reinitiate their fight against changes to marijuana restrictions in town, especially because the agenda items were more procedural in nature and not dealing with whether the lounges should be allowed, an issue the council already legislated.
Skowyra suggested Milroy, Kaminski and Imamura were acting in bad faith with their votes and urged the council members to read their “good council member handbooks.”
“Specifically tonight, I’m pretty disappointed in the stance that the council took,” Skowyra said. “… Once a thing has passed, unless we’re having another discussion about changing that decision, it is your responsibility as a council member to act in the best interest of the town. And I feel that three council members tonight were not doing that.”
Skowyra’s remark triggered another debate among council members, with Brad Bailey, Jen Barchers and Kyle Hendricks backing her up.
“This is how we get things done,” Bailey said. “Staff has done their work. They’ve brought these things to us based on our calls to them. … I’m not being terribly critical of anybody, but that was brought to us in fairness and at work with what staff did on a specific issue. We need to stick to that protocol and parliamentary procedure. That’s how we govern in a home-ruled town like this.”
Milroy retorted that the reason he and other council members voted against the ordinances was because marijuana topics keep coming up against the wishes of residents, and he slammed the council for what he called disrespectful and unprofessional behavior.
“There were very disrespectful comments made,” Milroy said. “And I’ve tried to have email discussions. I’ve tried to have follow-up discussions with other council members to try and calm the waters a little. And no one responds to emails, so how is that professional? … It was a protest vote because other council members are telling other council members they don’t care what they think. It’s just not a respectful council environment, parliamentary procedure. So you’re going to get these sorts of results and this sort of discord when you treat people that way. You can’t treat people like that and expect people to be happy about it and go along with procedures.”
Others balked at the idea that voting against the ordinances could be considered not in the best interest of the town.
“I’m feeling like now I should say, ‘Carolyn, why don’t you send me the agenda and tell me how you want me to vote on everything on the agenda?’” Kaminski said. Then after an interruption from Barchers added, “This is why I haven’t talked all night because I don’t get to have a voice.”
It remains to be seen whether public sentiment and internal opposition in the council will keep the marijuana walk-up and drive-thru windows from opening in town — or if there will be further attempts to kill the marijuana hospitality lounge law or establish a moratorium on further dispensary-related regulation changes — but the ordinance will return for a second reading and public hearing at a future meeting, likely in April.
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