Dolores’ pending pot regulations have created a type of gold rush, except it’s marijuana green.
In April, voters approved marijuana retail shops, commercial cultivation, testing and manufacturing.
But the small town, tucked in a narrow river valley, has limited space for commercial operations.
And that has prospective business owners scrambling to grab up possible sites for the growing marijuana business.
“It is like the Klondike gold rush right now. We are getting a lot of calls about where these places will be allowed,” said David Doudy, Dolores building inspector.
Speculators from outside the area are monitoring Dolores’ pending decisions on the matter, he said, and intend to buy up properties in anticipation of opening a commercial marijuana operation.
Doudy has heard reports of property owners in commercial and business districts that include homes dropping tenants in a bid to use their property as a marijuana facility.
Adequate parking will be an issue for many locations, he said. Marijuana entrepreneurs could buy two lots and make one a parking lot. Homes within a business or commercial zone could be bought or torn down to make room for a marijuana business.
A draft marijuana code is being created with a map for potential areas, but it could change, said Dolores Town Attorney Jon Kelly.
“There will be a temptation to look at the map and figure out which properties, so there is a disclaimer that there is no final decision until the board votes to enact an ordinance,” he said. “We’re bouncing around ideas.”
Under Dolores’ draft code, marijuana businesses could move into the Commercial Highway district and Community Business Districts 1 and 2. They would not be allowed in strictly residential zones. It’s unclear where marijuana product manufacturing could go, but it will be addressed through the land use code.
State marijuana regulations include 1,000-foot buffer zones separating marijuana facilities from day care centers and schools.
But towns have the discretion to decide on the size of the buffer zone. They also can require buffers to keep facilities away from one another or away from places such as playgrounds, parks and libraries.
Dolores mapped out potential buffer zones of 1,000 feet, 750 feet, and 500 feet from the Dolores Schools campus, the Teddy Bear Preschool, the school administration building, a day care on Fifth Street and a charter school on the east end of town.
Based on the varying draft buffer zones, the general areas where commercial marijuana facilities could be located include the west end of town, east of downtown and an area a little west of the east side of town.
The board discussed that under the three potential buffer scenarios, the Dolores downtown business district would not be available.
“Taking out the downtown area is unfortunate,” said Dolores Mayor Chad Wheelus. “I’d like to see downtown a little more revitalized, and it seems like a logical place. Voters wanted this, and finding ways to make it work is important. I’d hate to see housing torn down because that is the only option.”
Downtown is restricted under the smallest 500-foot buffer because the Dolores Schools’ administration building on the corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue holds some student classes.
The long-vacant former Vectra Bank building on Colorado Highway 145 also would not be available under the 500-foot minimum buffer.
Town Attorney Jon Kelly noted that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. He said federal law enforcement mostly has been “hands off” on states that have legalized the drug. However, there have been federal cease-and-desist orders issued against marijuana businesses that were allowed by municipalities to be within the 1,000-foot state standard from schools.
The town is debating regulations for locations, size of facilities and whether there will be a limit on the number allowed.
Some board members suggested a limit of two, others said no limit and let the market decide, and others said start with two then change the law to allow more later if desired.
“Voters did not ask us to limit the number, they want it to occur, and it is our responsibility to allow it to occur,” said board member Jen Stark.
It was noted the marijuana market will be self-limiting to a degree because there is not a lot of space available. The amount of additional tax revenues also will be affected depending on the amount of shops allowed.
“Citizens may freak out if there were suddenly four. I’d say let’s move slow and have an adjustment period,” said board member Sheila Wheeler.
If the Dolores School District moves to a site out of town, more areas for marijuana businesses could open up.
Officials emphasized no decisions on locations or number of operations have been made, and the discussions are all preliminary.
The ordinance to regulate the marijuana facilities will involve two public hearings and a vote of the board. Final rules are expected to be in place by Jan. 2, then applications can be submitted. Dolores’ draft code is modeled after the Naturita marijuana code.
In another wrinkle, the town is going through a land use code revision, which would need to fit with a proposed ordinance for commercial marijuana.
A special meeting between the Dolores Town board and Dolores Planning and Zoning board will discuss the marijuana regulation issue on Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m.