Pot rules

The Durango City Council did the right thing on several levels Tuesday in banning the sale of recreational marijuana in mixed-use neighborhoods. And in doing so, it set a healthy precedent for itself.

A final vote is set for Aug. 5, but it is always nice to see government listen to its constituents. Opposition to the previous plan to allow pot sales in mixed-use neighborhoods had come most vocally from residents living near College Drive and East Third Avenue, an area where recreational marijuana sales could have been allowed. The same group has also objected to what its members see as the city’s too-loose regulation of vacation-rental properties.

Beyond that, though, it would seem the council took to heart the nature of those objections. While it is easy to misconstrue the residents’ complaints, in both cases one fundamental issue is not necessarily the specific use, but the ongoing commercialization of residential areas. Be it pot sales, vacation rentals or anything else, there is continuing pressure on Durango’s neighborhoods from those who see them not as the foundation of our community, but as an opportunity for profit.

In our capitalist society, that may be understandable, but it is a threat nonetheless. A healthy community is grounded in its neighborhoods – residential and commercial – and their viability is central to its success. The easiest way to understand that is simply to look at those cities and towns that are undesirable places to live, work or shop. In any case, there is ample precedent for both land-use rules and strong regulation of the sale of controlled substances.

That recreational marijuana sales, in particular, should be kept out residential neighborhoods was bolstered by a study done by the Colorado Department of Revenue that focused on pot’s attraction to out-of-state visitors. In what apparently – and quite rightly – had a strong influence on the council, the study found that out-of-state visitors accounted for 44 percent of recreational pot sales in metro areas and fully 90 percent in what it called “heavily visited mountain communities.” What is more, as a city planner pointed out, Durango is part of a region that borders three other states, none of which allow legal sales of recreational marijuana.

That study and the realization of what it meant probably helped clarify the question. Discussions involving marijuana tend to circle back to the merits or evils of the drug itself. But the issue before the council was a land use question, no different than if the question was whether to allow any other potentially high-traffic, tourist-oriented enterprise in a residential neighborhood.

Calling something “mixed use” is one thing, but some uses do not mix well with others. And any business that largely draws people who are willing to travel to another state to buy a drug that is illegal where they live is probably incompatible with most Durangoans’ concept of neighborhood.

With that, the council was correct to see past the hype and hysteria over pot and look instead at what is appropriate for Durango neighborhoods. That, not the relative merits of marijuana, is what should be the council’s ongoing concern.

Now, what about vacation rentals?

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