LOUISVILLE -- The City Council dove head first Tuesday into the thorny issue of recreational marijuana regulation, throwing on the table options ranging from a prohibition on retail shops in the city to a moratorium to doing nothing at all.
The council, which met in a study session, didn't make any decisions Tuesday. But Mayor Pro Tem Hank Dalton chased the idea of putting in place a moratorium on marijuana retail stores that would last long enough to allow voters to have a say on the issue in November 2014.
That is the approach being pursued by Broomfield, which last week approved on first reading a 2-year ban on marijuana-related businesses. The moratorium, if approved next month, would last through January 2015, allowing voters to decide in November 2014 whether to make the ban permanent.
But Louisville resident Michael Menaker said the city shouldn't delay by taking the issue to the ballot at the end of next year. Instead, he said, the city should allow Louisville's two existing medical marijuana dispensaries to convert to marijuana retail shops once the state allows that to happen.
"The voters intent on this one is as clear as the sunrise," he said. "I don't think it's genuine to think otherwise. I'd like to support our existing businesses and help them get legal."
Cities, towns grapple with regs
Last November, Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 64, which permits state residents to grow up to six pot plants and to possess and use up to 1 ounce of marijuana. Louisville voters approved the measure 63 percent to 37 percent.
Louisville, along with neighboring communities, is wrestling with the issue of how to implement Amendment 64 and come up with regulations and licensure for the stores, cultivation centers and manufacturing facilities that state law now permits.
Many communities -- including Erie, Lyons, Broomfield, Longmont and Lafayette -- passed or are in the midst of drafting moratoria on marijuana-related businesses while they wait for the state Legislature and the Colorado Department of Revenue to come up with a set of statewide rules.
The Superior Board of Trustees went a step further Monday, voting on first reading to place an outright ban on the establishment of marijuana shops or clubs in town.
Amendment 64 stipulates that local governments that pursue regulation of recreational marijuana shall decide by Oct. 1 how they will process applications for retail pot operations.
Louisville police Chief Bruce Goodman said much of the potential trouble with the new recreational cannabis scene in Colorado won't come from the statehouse or state agencies, but from Washington, D.C. Marijuana use and possession is still illegal under federal law.
The Obama administration has indicated that federal law enforcement won't go after recreational pot users in Colorado and Washington state, whose voters also legalized the use and possession of small amounts of the drug last November. But it hasn't been as clear about how it would approach retail shops, wholesale operations and grow facilities.
"Will communities find they've involved themselves in an illegal trade and will they have to refund the tax money they collect?" Goodman asked. "It's uncharted territory, but the big unknown is federal law."
'Following the rules'
Shaun Gindi, owner of Compassionate Pain Management in Louisville, said he hopes the city will continue to work with the two dispensaries in town as it has for the past three years and allow them to make the inevitable transition to marijuana retail operations.
"We're here, we're doing a good job, we're following the rules," said Gindi, who attended Tuesday's study session.
AlterMeds owner Laurel Alterman, whose dispensary is within 200 yards of Compassionate Pain Management in the Colony Square Shopping Center, said her business has provided the city with steady sales tax revenues while providing the community a much-needed service. She said she wants to continue doing so even if the market realities of the new marijuana environment in Colorado don't allow her to do so as a caregiver any longer.
"I hope that Louisville is realistic in that it will continue to do business with us and that it will enable us to become retail marijuana operations, because in a little while, people won't bother to be medical marijuana patients anymore," she said.
City Manager Malcolm Fleming said he appreciates the revenues the two dispensaries have provided the city over the last three years and he said police have reported no problems with either operation in terms of crime or loitering. But he said the city is trying to decide an issue that goes beyond money.
"The magnitude of the sales tax revenue is relatively insignificant compared to the policy aspects before us," Fleming said. "It's not the prime consideration."
The issue will likely come back before the council at a formal meeting in a couple of months.