County commissioners enact moratorium on retail marijuana shops

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By Ramsey Scott

Jeffco has decided to put the brakes on retail marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county.

The county commissioners voted 3-0 on June 18 to prohibit any retail marijuana businesses from setting up shop. The ban includes retail sales and growing operations, along with testing and packaging facilities.

The ordinance is set to expire on Feb. 1, 2015, unless the commissioners vote to extend it, make it permanent or repeal it. Amendment 64, approved by the state’s voters last November, legalizes recreational marijuana but allows county and city governments to prohibit retail sales within their borders.

Assistant County Attorney Eric Butler said the moratorium buys Jeffco time to get guidelines from the state regarding implementation of Amendment 64. 

All three commissioners agreed the county needed more time to figure out everything from when and where retail marijuana could be grown and sold to how it would impact law enforcement and the county’s human services department. 

“We need to be watching what’s going on with other jurisdictions, watching what’s going on with legislation and November’s (vote on a state marijuana tax) … and about how this implementation is going and what other problems other jurisdictions are having and what successes they’re having,” Commissioner Casey Tighe said. “And based upon that information, decide if we think this is something Jefferson County wants to do.”

While a regulatory framework for retail marijuana was approved by the legislature recently, the state Revenue Department still must issue its own regulations on the licensing of retail marijuana businesses.

If all state regulations aren’t ready by Oct. 1 when people can begin to apply for retail marijuana licenses, it will fall to local governments to come up with their own regulations. Butler said that even if state regulations are in place by the deadline, they would most likely be emergency rules subject to change.


The revenue question

By opting out of retail sales, the county also forgoes any revenue from taxes on retail marijuana. Currently, the state is proposing a 15 percent excise tax on the production of marijuana and a 10 percent sales tax on retail sales. Coloradans will vote in November on the proposed marijuana taxes, as required under the TABOR Amendment. 

If Jeffco were to allow retail sales, it would collect 15 percent of any sales-tax revenue generated within the county.

Also, cities and counties that ban retail marijuana sales will not be able to collect any impact funds from the state. Commissioner Faye Griffin wants to see that changed during the 2014 legislative session. 

Griffin compared the situation to impact fees generated from gambling in Black Hawk and Central City. While Jeffco doesn’t allow gambling, Griffin said, the county still receives impact fees from the state to help with road maintenance and law enforcement costs associated with people traveling through Jeffco to casinos in Gilpin County. 

Jeffco isn’t going to be in a bubble and will feel the impacts from other jurisdictions that permit sales of marijuana, Griffin said. 

District Attorney Pete Weir and Jeffco Sheriff Ted Mink spoke in favor of the moratorium, saying it would let the county take a measured approach to any possible retail marijuana stores. Weir said the county needed to balance the will of the voters with the health and safety of its citizens. 

Commissioner Don Rosier agreed.

“For me, it’s making sure that we’re responding to the will of the people, that they understand what they voted for. And that we implement that will and that vote to the highest and best possible way we can that protects those that are vulnerable,” Rosier said.

Tighe said Jeffco should monitor the impacts of retail sales in other jurisdictions.

“I want to look at the human side. If it does look like where the jurisdictions where they have implemented this, they’re having a lot of issues with kids getting access to it … and people having abuse problems, if that’s the case, then, yeah, I don’t want Jefferson County to go down that road,” Tighe said. “The other part of it, to some extent, that issue was debated and voted on when the amendment was voted on. And the majority of the voters voted for legalization. To some extent that issue has been addressed by the voters already.” 

The vote for the moratorium was not popular with many who attended the commissioners’ June 18 meeting. Several asked the commissioners to make the ban permanent, while others preferred no ban at all. 

Shawn Hauser, an attorney for the pro-marijuana group Sensible Colorado, said public safety would be enhanced by the county’s approval of a regulatory framework for retail marijuana. Without that framework, the black market for pot will persist in Jeffco, she said. 

“I appreciate they want to look into what other places are doing, but February 2015 is a long time for a black market to be in Jefferson County,” Hauser said. 

All three commissioners said they wanted the county to be proactive in its work on creating a possible regulatory system. 

“I don’t think we should be sitting on our hands waiting for the February 2015 deadline to come. We need to be more proactive than that,” Tighe said. “Once we feel like we have enough data, we should make a decision one way or the other.”


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