After a 15-minute back-and-forth with legal council on Tuesday, municipal leaders voted unanimously to extend the city’s 10-month moratorium on recreational marijuana through the end of the year.
City Attorney Mike Green informed Cortez council members Tuesday, May 27, that Amendment 64 allows voters to decide whether retail marijuana sales should be allowed within city lim its. He added that the city could also pass an ordinance to either regulate or prohibit commercial sales.
“If we have an election, we wouldn’t know the results until sometime in early November, so we would need until the end of the year to implement an ordinance,” Green said.
After a motion by council member Shawna McLaughlin and a second by Bob Archibeque, the city approved Ordinance 1190, which prohibits any new medical and retail marijuana license through Dec. 31.
The legislation also set a public hearing on the matter for June 10, which will be preceded by a city council fact-gathering workshop with various municipal department heads.
“If after the June 10th workshop, you decide you don’t want to have an election, then we can move forward, and get something done before the end of the year,” said Green. “The moratorium just gives us options and choices, and basically gives the people interested in the issue notice of what we’re doing.”
City Manager Shane Hale reiterated that council could repeal or amend the moratorium before the end of the year and pass an ordinance to either prohibit or regulate commercial marijuana sales after the June 10 workshop and public hearing.
“You don’t have to take the whole year to figure out what you want to do,” Hale told council members.
The city’s initial moratorium, scheduled to sunset June 30, was passed in August to allow the city time to examine issues surrounding commercial marijuana sales. Over the past nine months, city leaders have failed to address the issue until this month.
“This (moratorium) formally buys us some more time,” said Mayor Karen Sheek.
Earlier this month, four council members – McLaughlin, Archibeque, Tom Butler and Orly Lucero – indicated they’d like voters to decide whether retail marijuana sales should be legal in Cortez, while Sheek, Ty Keel and Jim Price insisted that voters have decided the issue with the passage of Amendment 64.
Green was subsequently directed to develop ballot questions for both an up or down vote to license retail outlets and whether special excise taxes should be imposed on retail sales. An election would cost about $10,000, and city officials have until July 15 to include commercial marijuana issues on November’s general election ballot.
The city has seven areas zoned for medical marijuana businesses, and if approved, retail marijuana outlets would likely be restricted to those same areas, according to Green.
As a result of Amendment 64, Colorado became the first state to authorize and regulate commercial marijuana sales, which started on Jan. 1. In the first quarter of 2014, the state generated $7.3 million in retail marijuana taxes.
According to officials, the city’s 4 percent sales tax on medical marijuana products adds approximately $50,000 annually to city coffers.