The Durango City Council’s public hearing on recreational marijuana sparked a blaze of comment but ended up smoldering into inaction.
After an hour of comment Tuesday night criticizing the ordinance and the city’s approach, councilors decided they needed another study session to work through issues with the current draft ordinance on regulating retail pot shops.
The council also held a hearing on updating the medical marijuana regulations to flow with the retail pot rules.
Residents complained about overregulation and a lack of opportunity in the Central Business District. However, most of the councilors seem to have mellowed their initial inclination to ban the stores downtown.
“Please don’t hide us,” said resident Farrah Vorhauser. “We are doing something legal. Right now, we’re helping medical patients, but I think that recreation is not dangerous. It’s just as enjoyable, possibly even safer – my opinion safer – than going to a bar and drinking alcohol.”
The draft retail-marijuana ordinance allows for shops and testing facilities but not cultivation or manufacturing businesses. It also gives those already holding a medical marijuana license first dibs to obtain a retail license.
Anyone may apply for a recreational license on or after Jan. 2, though. Pot businesses also are prohibited in residential zones and mixed-use buildings with residential units. Social clubs are not allowed.
The public hearing included maps showing where there were setbacks, most from state and federal law. State law requires a 1,000-foot separation between medical marijuana dispensaries and schools, substance-abuse treatment facilities and child care centers. However, City Attorney Dirk Nelson said there’s no such state requirement for recreational stores.
Federal law calls for enhanced penalties for drug activities within 1,000 feet of schools and other facilities.
The maps indicate allowed zones for recreational pot shops in Bodo Industrial Park, western parts of the city and in Three Springs.
There is space around East Third Avenue and College Drive, but the current draft ordinance bans the stores in the Central Business District. Recent surveys among the business community seemed to indicate an even split over whether retail pot stores should be allowed downtown.
The proposed rules would allow only Rocky Mountain High and Medical Horticultural Services to get a retail license this year.
John Menzies of Animas Herbal Wellness Center said every medical marijuana business in the city should have the opportunity to have a dual medical and retail license.
Medical marijuana business owners complained about the ban against offering discounts and coupons. However, Nelson said that is state law.
Resident John Mahoney also spoke to the councilors about allowing shops downtown.
“We all think downtown will live forever, but will it?” he asked. “Why not help it with a harmless, legal product that will bring more people downtown.”
Tim Wheeler, owner of Durango Coffee Co., said the stores were likely to attract more people downtown, which would help existing businesses.
“That (ordinance) is a de facto ban on retail marijuana in the city of Durango. I mean, there’s no other way to look at it,” he said.
Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she wants the ordinance to be more business-friendly.