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City Council performs pot pirouette

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Proposed ordinance to allow recreational sales changed to a ban

By Ramsey Scott

The Littleton City Council has changed course and will now vote on a resolution banning retail marijuana sales, after giving initial support to the idea. 

During the end of the council’s Sept. 3 meeting, which lasted until just before 3 a.m. Sept. 4 due to the contentious hearing on the Broadstone at Littleton Station development, Mayor Debbie Brinkman proposed changing a proposed ordinance allowing retail marijuana sales to an ordinance banning sales of retail marijuana.

Council members had previously voiced support for retail sales in the city on a 4-3 vote. A public hearing, along with a final vote on the ban, has been set for the council’s Sept. 17 meeting. 

Brinkman, who has not hidden her opposition to retail and medical marijuana, said Littleton should put off a decision. She urged the council to vote against retail pot sales and to let recreational marijuana sales — made possible by state voters’ approval of Amendment 64 last November — to work themselves out over the next year or two.

“I’m concerned about being the first, one of the first, to enter into this unknown territory. We don’t have to pass this now. We don’t have to approve retail marijuana by Oct. 1,” Brinkman said. “We can say no right now, and we can wait a year or two and see how the dust settles.”

Brinkman said she doesn’t want Littleton to be an island in the south metro area for legal marijuana sales. Arapahoe County’s Board of Commissioners recently voted 4-1 to ban retail pot sales in unincorporated areas.

Those arguments worked on Councilman Bruce Stahlman, who originally had voiced his support for retail sales. 

“All the communities around us have either banned retail or put a moratorium on it. Frankly, that’s caused me to reconsider the whole thing,” Stahlman said. “I don’t think it’s in the community’s best interest to be the only community in how many square miles that’s got a retail presence. You’re just inviting the law of unintended consequences.”  

Several members of the City Council questioned whether switching the ordinance on first reading from allowing retail sales to banning them, especially in front of an empty chamber at 2:30 a.m., was appropriate. 

Councilwoman Peggy Cole said the proposed about-face should have been on the agenda, or at least added at the beginning of the meeting to give audience members the opportunity to stay late and speak.

Councilman Jim Taylor agreed with Cole.

“This is a first reading. Sending it to public hearing so we can hear from the public when it is an announced agenda item is the correct thing to do. If you don’t like what the public says, then you can vote your conscience at this time,” Taylor said. “I think it is unfair to not move forward since the only thing we had on the agenda tonight was to have this on first reading and establish a public hearing date.”  

City Manager Michael Penny and City Attorney Ken Fellman both said that because an ordinance banning retail marijuana sales dealt with the same section the in city code as an ordinance allowing sales, the council could change direction during first reading. 

The change could put the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries out of business, said Melissa Van Diest, owner of the Hemp Center in Littleton. 

State regulations allow medical marijuana dispensaries to be first in line to apply for retail licenses. The Hemp Center, along with two other dispensaries in town, had indicated it would apply for a dual license. 

“Denver is the only one around that will now sell it. They’re just going to send our business to them, and it’s going to hurt us,” Van Diest said.

The Hemp Center, along with the three other medical marijuana dispensaries in Littleton, already see a lot of business from outside the city, Van Diest said. And all of that has taken place without incident, she said.

“I’m hoping they change their mind,” Van Diest said. “If we can explain away some of their points, then maybe we can change their view.”

Colorado voters last November approved Amendment 64, which makes it legal for adults to possess less than 1 ounce of marijuana, and the measure took effect Jan. 1. Several years before, state voters approved sales and use of medicinal pot.

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.