Amendment 64's language made starting a recreational marijuana industry in Colorado look simple for local governments.
The amendment, which backers said would regulate marijuana sales like alcohol, granted cities and towns the authority to set their own rules. It even allowed them to opt out of having pot shops.
Denver is all in, but city lawmakers are finding that setting up the nation's first legal marijuana market is not so simple.
City Council members are walking a fine line between protecting the interests of legitimate marijuana merchants and looking out for neighborhoods which don't want to be overrun by drugs.
"There is a profound potential for a complete change of Denver's image," said Councilman
On Monday, the Amendment 64 committee meets for three hours, making decisions about 39 rules and regulations for the new industry, ranging from zoning buffers to hours to fees.
Later in the day, the full council takes up a discussion about whether to put a proposed 5 percent sales tax on pot sales on the November ballot.
On Friday, Auditor Dennis Gallagher sent a letter to council members, saying the 5 percent tax is a tipping point that will compel "no" votes.
He supports a 3.5 percent sales tax and fears if the sales tax doesn't pass, people will choose to grow their marijuana at home, creating back-alley deals, overloading electrical systems and shooting down local tax revenue potential.
"We have control over commercial ventures," Gallagher said. "We have almost no control or oversight of the home grower."
The final council vote on the marijuana tax question will be Aug. 26 after a public hearing.
The council has until the end of September to formally approve the rules and regulations around the new industry. Last week, the council went through 15 of the 39 decisions.
One of the most contentious issues is about requiring a public process before medical marijuana centers can convert into retail shops. In a 7-5 vote, the committee decided to require "automatic public hearings for conversion" before regulatory officials.
The conversion of each of the more than 200 dispensaries in Denver would take more than a year, says an industry official.
"If the business has paid taxes and complied with advertising ordinance and no neighbors have complained, why force a hearing?" asked Michael Elliott, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group.
Elliott's group is asking that the city accept written comments and give standing only to comments from people who live near the facilities. Those commenting would also have to provide evidence of wrongdoing.
Elliott also is against the council requiring a separating wall be built in businesses that want to sell both medical marijuana and retail marijuana, saying it would be too expensive for merchants and few would do it, resulting in fewer dispensaries.
Councilman Paul Lopez wants a 2,500-foot buffer between any retail pot shop and school, child-care center or drug and alcohol facility. A map by the city shows only a few places in Denver where the shops would be allowed — Northfield, near Denver International Airport and a few small pockets on the city's borders.