More than three months removed from Coloradans’ vote to legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana, the battles over regulation and logistics are ramping up.
The Littleton City Council is the most recent municipality to begin discussion on whether or not to allow marijuana retail shops and clubs inside the city limits. On Feb. 19, the council voted 6-1 to initially approve a moratorium on the establishment of retail marijuana stores and marijuana clubs in the city.
Recently, the Jeffco commissioners began discussing how the county should regulate pot sales in unincorporated areas.
The Littleton resolution, which goes before the council for a final vote March 5, means the city would not accept or process applications for retail marijuana shops and marijuana clubs until at least Oct. 1. The resolution would also stop the city from issuing sales-tax licenses and zoning permits for retail marijuana shops and clubs.
Acting city attorney Kristin Schledorn said the measure will ensure that shops and clubs can’t open until Littleton has adopted its own licensing regulations. It will also give the city enough time to study its master plan and decide whether or not to allow retail shops at all.
The state has until July 1 to adopt regulations for the operation of retail marijuana shops; municipalities have until Oct. 1 to adopt regulations. If the state drops the ball and doesn’t create a full regulatory framework, the details will fall to counties and municipalities.
Unlike with liquor stores, which are mostly under state control, municipalities will have more control over how marijuana shops operate within their borders.
“This is not a permanent solution to whatever may be the issues that are being decided regarding what we will call, fondly, 64,” said Mayor Debbie Brinkman. “This is … in order for us to not have to deal with an onslaught of applications and other issues; it gives staff an opportunity to let anyone who’s interested know there is a moratorium and stop that influx.”
Brinkman, along with several other council members, brought up the city’s experience with medical marijuana dispensaries as a reason to pump the brakes on taking action too soon. While state regulations lagged, Littleton created a strong framework for medical marijuana, said Councilman Bruce Beckman. When the state issued its own regulations, Littleton was left to change a system that was already in place.
Beckman said a moratorium would keep Littleton from getting into another “cart before the horse” scenario.
Councilman Jerry Valdes, the lone dissenting vote on the measure, peppered Schledorn with questions about the reasoning behind the resolution. He pointed to a letter the council received in December from the former city attorney, Kirsten Crawford, recommending it not pass a moratorium and to have regulations in place by July 1.
“So my question would be, why has staff now changed their direction from no moratorium to a moratorium and also for it to be as late as October?” Valdes asked. “I’m not opposed to a moratorium; I just don’t understand why we need that much time.”
Schledorn responded: “I don’t think the moratorium is completely necessary, but it makes it very clear that every department in the city is not to accept any applications. There will be no getting in through the back door.”
Yet when it comes to private marijuana clubs, the resolution becomes more pressing, in Schledorn’s opinion.
“With marijuana clubs, I think it is absolutely necessary that you do a moratorium, because marijuana clubs are arguing there is no need to license at the local level to operate,” Schledorn said. “So we’re trying to cut that loophole.”
Schledorn said that since the city was considering a ban on marijuana clubs, staff felt they should include retail shops in the moratorium.
While Schledorn said the resolution is necessary to keep clubs from exploiting a loophole in regulations, Tom Valdez, the CEO for one of Colorado’s first marijuana clubs, Club 64, said if the moratorium passes, it would be like banning the Elks Club from hosting gatherings.
“If there’s an Elks Club, an Eagle Club in their county, those are the same organizations now; you can’t differential from one club,” Valdez said. “All those membership clubs set a precedent for marijuana clubs to operate.”
Valdez said that if municipalities ban pot clubs from operating, it interferes with the free association of citizens, a violation of the First Amendment right to free association and of federal Title 18.
Kelli Narde, spokeswoman for the city, said Schledorn would decline to comment on the issue of clubs while she continues to research the issue.
Under the language of Amendment 64, it is legal to give, or “gift,” marijuana and for anyone to carry up to an ounce of marijuana, about the size of a full sandwich bag.
Valdez said members of Club 64 may contract with his company, Marijuana Authority, to grow the six plants allowed under the new law. If a member has plants that have produced, he can share with other members whose plants haven’t budded.
Valdez believes municipalities that try to ban private clubs from consuming marijuana will face court battles, which he said they will lose.
The voters’ intention?
A major point in discussions at both a city level and at the county level is whether or not voters actually favored retail stores.
While a majority of Littleton voters approved Amendment 64, several council members, along with City Manager Michael Penny, are skeptical voters were endorsing retail outlets and clubs in their city.
“Every time you start to look at this, you see all the different things that nobody thought about,” Brinkman said.
She used the example of residents being allowed to grow marijuana in their homes. A family with kids can move into a house, and the neighbors could be growing pot without their knowledge.
“How does that affect your next-door neighbor? Suddenly they have a huge pot farm in their house, and it’s legal,” Brinkman said. “It’s our responsibility to protect the community from this type of poor legislation and not let (those issues) happen.”
Brinkman’s sentiments were echoed at the county level by several department heads, along with Jefferson County Commissioner Don Rosier, during their discussions. For his part, Valdez isn’t buying it.
“I believe that’s a typical politician answer,” he said. “People voted for the amendment based upon what it said. If the voter is uninformed, you can contemplate that all you want. But the fact is that the language was there.”
Councilman Valdes said he believed the reaction to Amendment 64 stemmed from marijuana itself.
“For some reason, I think, because it’s marijuana, we’re reacting this way,” Valdes said.
If the council does approve the moratorium at its next meeting, members could still overturn it before it expires on Oct. 1.
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.