Pot-sale ban inches forward

Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013 10:23 PM

The City of Cortez has opted to see how the state experiments with marijuana, proposing to adopt a temporary prohibition on recreational marijuana sales.

In a wait-and-see mode, city council members voted unanimously this week to move ahead with an immediate 10-month moratorium on any new medical marijuana and retail marijuana establishments. City attorney Mike Green told leaders there were “too many unknowns right now” regarding how state legislators would implement a voter-approved mandate to reform marijuana prohibition laws.

“Amendment 64 gives people in Colorado the right to both consume and possess marijuana, but it doesn’t mean someone has the right to purchase it here in Cortez,” City Manager Shane Hale told council members Tuesday.

Before city leaders vote to officially adopt the measure, citizens will be allowed to comment on the proposed moratorium at a 7:30 p.m. public hearing on Aug. 27. If passed, the moratorium would sunset next June.

Green suggested the moratorium was needed until state officials ironed out licensing, budgeting and regulatory details during their next legislative session.

“What happens to a state-issued business license when local violations occur?” he asked during a city council workshop. “If the tax ballot initiative doesn’t pass, then I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Voters across Colorado will decide in November on both a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax to be paid once recreational marijuana facilities legally become operational in January. The law stipulates city coffers will receive 1.5 percent.

Council member Ty Keel believes more answers are needed to best determine how the city should impose local operating fees, for example, and reminded his peers that state officials also remain in the dark regarding potential revenues received from recreational marijuana sales.

“The state won’t know how much revenue they will be receiving until voters decide on the November ballot initiatives,” he said.

Cortez medical marijuana business owner Paul Coffey supports the city moratorium until state officials adopt proper guidelines and procedures, but he said local budgetary concerns were moot at this point, predicting customers from near and far would flood recreational dispensaries once they open their doors.

“As a business owner, the one thing we can guarantee is that somebody will be in the very first day we open,” said the Beacon Wellness Group owner.

“For a very pro-business board and town, my suggestion is to at least try to put in some of the rules and regulations into place first, because like they said, it’s speculative. But the revenues, they aren’t speculative. The money is guaranteed from the first day.”

Police Chief Roy Lane supports the proposed moratorium, citing the time required to properly educate his officers about new legal guidelines once they are finally adopted. The state legislature reconvenes in January and meets through April.

“If state officials have dragged their feet, and we’re still in a green haze of smoke come next summer, then we can extend the moratorium,” Hale told relieved council members.