As a state task force considers how to put the will of Colorado’s voters to legalize recreational marijuana into law, cities and counties are pondering how they will regulate the practice in their jurisdictions.
Amendment 64, passed by Colorado voters in November, authorizes the state to adopt legislation to regulate the sale of marijuana by July. Local governments also have the ability to choose from a wide array of possible regulatory actions that could include implementing bans on marijuana-related businesses, creating local regulations for the industry or putting the decision to voters.
In discussions this week, the La Plata County commissioners seemed most inclined to consider a temporary ban on all recreational marijuana facilities until at least six months after state legislation goes into effect to analyze state regulations and develop local licensing and land-use rules, if necessary.
According to Amendment 64, recreational marijuana businesses will need a state license and local approval.
For its part, the city of Durango approved the extension of a moratorium on new medical marijuana-related businesses until July 1. City staff members expect to bring up the issue and review options after the City Council election in April, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
“Until we get some guidance, all of our options are on the table,” LeBlanc said.
The town of Bayfield also enacted a moratorium that will last until July 31, and next month, the Ignacio Town Board will vote to ban medical marijuana-related businesses until August, managers of those towns said.
La Plata County likely would be in the minority of counties if it chooses to allow recreational marijuana businesses after a temporary ban expires, said Eric Bergman, policy and research supervisor with Colorado Counties Inc.
About one-third of Colorado’s counties currently allow medical marijuana facilities, and Bergman said he expects only about one quarter to roll out recreational marijuana regulations by Oct. 1, when local governments have to start accepting applications from businesses. Many other counties are expected to enact at least temporary bans, Bergman said.
In La Plata County, voters supported Amendment 64 by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.
Commissioners discussed creating regulations similar to those for medical marijuana facilities that would dictate where recreational marijuana facilities cannot locate rather than where they can. Commissioners said they expect crafting recreational marijuana regulations to take less time than the 2˝ years it took the county to create medical marijuana regulations because they already have a foundation to work from. They also supported relying on state regulations as much as possible.
The county needs to be especially concerned with the potential for the area to become a destination for New Mexico residents looking to buy marijuana, Commissioner Julie Westendorff said.
Danielle Lorrigan, research analyst with the county attorney’s office, said, “The pent-up demand is coming from outside the state rather than inside the state.”
The state task force is attempting to address the potential for “pot tourism” with proposed limits on how much marijuana out-of-staters can buy and signs saying it is illegal to leave the state with the drug in hand.
The potential for Amendment 64 to expand the marijuana business could be a reason why the county’s medical marijuana regulations haven’t seen a lot of use, said Paul Kosnik, assistant county attorney.
Many medical marijuana facilities could be holding off on applying for licenses and land-use permits because they are reconsidering their business models, Kosnik said.
Of the six marijuana-cultivation facilities in the county, five are operating with expired temporary land-use permits. None have received the medical marijuana license that also is required by county regulations, Kosnik said.
Yet the county’s ability to force operations to come into compliance with its regulations is limited, he said.
“Our main remedies are to revoke or suspend a license, but that’s not very helpful if (facilities) don’t even have a license,” he said.
But the county shouldn’t assume that applications will continue to be as sparse when recreational marijuana laws go into effect, County Manager Joe Kerby said.
“This is much bigger and will have a much greater impact than medical marijuana,” Kerby said. “Keep in mind when you’re making regulations and taking public comment that this is really unknown territory.”