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Durango begins looking at pot rules

By Sarah Mueller
Herald Staff Writer

Creating regulations for marijuana is rare for public officials, but other cities will be watching Durango’s moves and judging its success.

The Durango City Council met with staff members Tuesday afternoon to sweat the details of setting up a complicated process of codes and requirements that businesses and residents will have to abide by.

Questions included who should have first chance at a retail license, testing facilities in the city, locating retail outlets, managing residents growing pot for personal use and the definition of open and public consumption.

There currently is a moratorium on recreational purchases through June 30.

The biggest issues appeared to be growing for personal use, what open and public use means and how to enforce it.

State law allows residents 21 and older to grow six plants each for personal use. However, councilors liked the idea of limiting a residential unit to only six plants.

City Attorney David Smith said state law could lead to five unrelated people living together cultivating 30 plants. There are horror stories about fire hazards and mold infestations from other cities, he said.

That discussion led to whether it’s legal for people to stand on private property visible from the streets – such as balconies, front steps and backyards – and smoke pot.

Durango Police Chief Jim Spratlen said it was a child-safety issue for him.

“Alcohol doesn’t float in the air and cause intoxication for a 3-year-old or a 5-year-old or an 8-year-old that’s standing on the other side of that property,” he said. ”That’s how I see the difference.”

Other councilors questioned the difference of openly drinking, smoking a cigarette or smoking a joint outside on private property next to children.

“We’re trying to make it fair, or at least in parity between alcohol,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. “It’s a whole new concept for society. It was a popular vote; whether we voted for or against it, it’s the law.”

LeBlanc said councilors seemed to reach a consensus that people could consume marijuana as long as they are on private property. Councilors also generally agreed it was unnecessary to physically separate medical and retail establishments when bars are adjacent throughout the city.

The council is considering banning sales downtown. Local officials said stores could be limited to the Bodo Industrial Park, north Main Avenue and around Grandview.

State law allows co-location of dispensaries but requires separate doors and inventories and has distance rules barring shops within a 1,000-foot radius of schools, parks, drug and alcohol counseling centers and day care centers.

“Let the free market dictate what it’s going to be,” Councilor Keith Brant said about co-location.

Councilors also seemed to have reached consensus about testing facilities in city limits, based primarily on detailed state regulations released for the dispensaries. State law established protocols for product handling, including receiving, disposing and accounting for cannabinoid substances.

Tyler D’Spain, a potential entrepreneur who sat in on the meeting, wants to create a testing center in Durango. He said he was pleased with the positive tone, including some officials who commented or joked that the city’s schedule of fees could add more cost to the existing state-created fee structure.

“It’s honestly a small factor,” D’Spain said. “We’re looking at $600,000 in equipment. We’re looking at just state license fees (at) probably $15,000.”

An ordinance has not yet been crafted, and the draft ordinance would be subject to public hearings and votes.

smueller@durangoherald.com

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