A November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Colorado is prompting the city of Durango to consider extending its two-month emergency ban on new medical marijuana businesses through the end of the year so city ordinances can reflect the outcome of the vote.
On Tuesday, the City Council adopted new fees on the medical marijuana industry and scheduled the first public hearing of the proposed moratorium extension July 17.
After three years of regulating medical marijuana, the city imposed a two-month moratorium from granting new licenses to reconsider issues such as the distance of medical marijuana centers from schools and the regulation of small, nonprofit caregivers, or those who grow a limited number of plants.
Jonny Radding, a co-owner of Durango Organics, which has never gotten an infraction, complained Tuesday that local dispensaries already feel “very micro-managed” and picked on for issues that don’t seem very consequential.
City Councilor Sweetie Marbury, a supporter of the industry, responded that the rules are there “for your protection.”
If Amendment 64 passes, medical marijuana cards might no longer be needed. Plus, the city and state would have to determine how to regulate sale of marijuana in retail stores and restaurants, said City Manager Ron LeBlanc.
Brian Vicente, a co-director of the Amendment 64 campaign, said marijuana would be sold at licensed stores such as medical marijuana dispensaries.
A similar ballot initiative in California got 46 percent of the vote in 2010, Vicente said.
He believes there is a better chance of it passing in Colorado this year because greater turnout is expected for youths and minorities in a presidential year.
“We do well with those communities because they bear the brunt of the war on drugs,” Vicente said in a telephone interview.
The goal is to regulate marijuana like alcohol, making it legal for adults 21 and older, he said.
It would end the discrepancies between how state and local authorities treat the enforcement of marijuana and alcohol.
The council also increased fees and imposed new charges on medical marijuana businesses to recover some of the costs of regulating the industry.
The city needs to increase fees on medical marijuana businesses to pay for the costs of inspections, audits and criminal background checks of employees.
It’s difficult for the city, for example, to audit a cash-only business, LeBlanc said.
“It causes me great concern we don’t have an audit trail like we do a pharmacy,” he said.
Police Chief Jim Spratlen estimated the city spends 2,000 hours of staff time on regulating this “controlled substance.”
“There’s just so much involved,” he said.
The new fees connected to medical marijuana are expected to generate $41,500 in new revenue for Durango, but LeBlanc said the new fees would recover only half the costs for regulating the industry.
Many fees for medical marijuana currently had been equal to fees for liquor businesses, such as $875 for a new license and $600 for a change of ownership.
The application fee for any new medical marijuana license, for example, will increase to $3,000, and the cost of changing ownership will be $3,000.
Currently, there are eight medical marijuana dispensaries and one business with a cultivation license in Durango.
Radding understood the justification, but called the fee changes “extreme.”
“We’re just locals trying to have a career,” he said.
Radding estimated that medical marijuana business pay between $20,000 to $40,000 annually in state, county and city fees.
“It starts to add up, absolutely,” Radding said.