Littleton council leaning toward approval of retail marijuana sales

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Four of seven members support sales in city

By Ramsey Scott

Littleton may soon join Denver and a few other Colorado cities in having retail outlets for recreational marijuana.

During a study session Aug. 27, a majority of members of the Littleton City Council — Jerry Valdes, Bruce Stahlman, Peggy Cole and Jim Taylor — expressed support for allowing retail marijuana sales in the city.

Colorado voters last November approved Amendment 64, which legalizes the sale and use of recreational marijuana, but also lets cities and counties opt in or out of retail sales. Numerous municipalities and counties in the south metro area, including Jefferson and Douglas counties, have banned the sale of pot.

“I’ve been out there preaching for a while we ought to regulate marijuana like liquor and tax the hell out of it,” Taylor said. “I believe we should allow the four existing medical operations to continue and allow them to become retail marijuana establishments if they so desire.”

Despite the possibility of raising the city’s annual revenue by an estimated $120,000, Mayor Debbie Brinkman and council members Bruce Beckman and Phil Cernanec said negative impacts and social costs would be too high.

“I’m completely opposed to it,” Brinkman said. “I also believe that the law people voted on was not for us to open up retail operations. Amendment 64 states very clearly that they were voting for the legalization of use of marijuana for certain age groups. And the right for the cities and municipalities and jurisdictions to make their decision as to how they want to handle that.

“By disallowing retail does not mean you’re going against the voters of the community.”

Cernanec said his no vote was tied to concerns raised during a conversation he had with the principals of Littleton Public Schools. 

“Each one of them — it’s not even a gray area on whether to allow adult use … as far as the message it sends to young folks,” Cernanec said. 

Valdes said that while use of marijuana by minors is a serious issue, liquor use by high school students also is a huge problem.

“If we were to use the logic of the schools, saying they’re really afraid of it, we should start shutting down liquor stores, because liquor is a huge problem in the high school,” Valdes said. “The issue I heard from principals and teachers is, kids are stealing (alcoholic drinks) from their parents.”

The regulatory framework the city is creating for retail marijuana is very similar to Littleton’s tight regulations on medical marijuana. The new regulations would require a background and fingerprint check of all investors in retail shops, as well as of employees.

State regulations allow medical marijuana dispensaries to be first in line to apply for retail licenses.  Of the city’s four medical marijuana dispensaries, three have indicated they would like to apply for a retail license while keeping their medical licenses, City Manager Michael Penny said.

Littleton would like to keep the number of retail locations limited to four.

The three dispensaries, if approved for a retail license, would have to limit customers to people age 21 and over. While medical marijuana patients can be under 21, no one under 21 is allowed to buy or use recreational marijuana.

The city decided to restrict access to dual retail and medical marijuana shops to customers 21 and over.

While the city is moving forward with regulations, the final decision on retail pot might hinge on this November’s city election. If taxes on retail marijuana aren’t approved, City Council members indicated they would pull their support for allowing retail marijuana sales.

Littleton residents will vote on a proposed 3 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, while voters statewide will decide on a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax.

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