What: Public hearing on new marijuana ordinances
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Council Chambers, Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway
Under Amendment 64, Coloradans will be able to buy recreational marijuana Jan. 1, but under proposed Boulder ordinance changes, those who don't already have existing medical marijuana shops may not be able to open their own outlets until almost a year later.
And initially, recreational pot consumers will have to do their shopping outside of city limits.
That has some in the industry complaining that the city is stubbornly dragging its feet.
Boulder City Council will hold a public hearing and a second reading of the new set of ordinances that would govern the sale of recreational marijuana in the city Tuesday.
Under the proposed rules, existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to apply convert to recreational marijuana facilities months before new businesses can apply to sell recreational marijuana.
The city said allowing existing medical marijuana dispensaries to be the first to convert and sell recreational marijuana makes sense, since those business owners have already satisfied the regulations associated with having medical marijuana licenses without issues.
"They have been good businesses and followed through with requirements of the city and been responsible," said Assistant City Attorney Kathy Haddock.
The proposed timeline right now would have the city stop accepting medical marijuana applications in March, to allow the city time to finish processing both renewals and new applications. On June 1, the city would begin accepting applications by those medical marijuana dispensaries to convert to recreational shops.
The city would only begin opening up applications to new recreational marijuana businesses in October 2014.
As a result, Boulder's licensing clerk Mishawn Cook said the city has seen an increase in applications and renewals for medical marijuana licenses, as those looking to avoid a longer wait seek to get in under the deadline. She said she expects more in the coming months.
Currently, Boulder has 39 pending applications, with 13 of those being for new medical marijuana licenses.
"We expect we will see another little blip as owners are trying to make plans to properly position their businesses for the transition," Cook said.
'We've been through this'
David Threlfall, the owner of Trill Alternatives, 1537 Pearl St., said at the moment he is leaning toward keeping his business a medical marijuana dispensary, as opposed to transitioning into a recreational shop. But he said it does make sense that dispensaries should get the first shot at opening recreational stores.
"I think that's a great decision," he said. "The last thing they want to do is start with everybody being new. We've been through this. We've been through it and sat down with Mishawn Cook before. We know what they want and we know what's expected of us."
Cook said she doesn't anticipate too many issues with converting existing licenses.
"We expect and hope that recreational marijuana conversations will be pretty straight forward in the sense that they are already existing businesses," she said. "Overall they're very good licensees and now they've been operating for nearly three years in a compliant manner."
Added Threlfall, "Anybody who has survived in this business this long, you've had to jump through a lot of hoops. A few more is not something that would keep me from doing this."
But Shawn Coleman, a consultant who works on behalf of the marijuana industry, said the Boulder needs to move faster on opening recreational marijuana shops in the city. He pointed out that the city of Denver anticipates having recreational retailers open in January -- well ahead of Boulder.
"The idea that the city of Denver will do this but the city of Boulder wouldn't be able to handle 39 applications until June of next year, I struggle to understand the logic of that," Coleman said.
"Boulder has been extremely effective at regulating marijuana. I don't quite understand why staff seems to have such low confidence in doing what they've been doing so successfully for the past three years."
Coleman said the lag will put marijuana businesses that have chosen to set up shop in Boulder behind, at cost to both businesses and the city.
"If I'm an adult who wants to buy recreational marijuana on January 1, I'm not going to just buy marijuana," he said. "I'm going to get a bite to eat, I might see a show. And all that is transported from would have been taking place in Boulder down to Denver.
"The longer that goes on, the greater the risk for places that have made a commitment to Boulder," he said.
The city said it needs the time because the licensing office -- in addition to processing medical marijuana applications -- will have to be writing up a new applications for recreational marijuana while still carrying out the normal duties of its office. Cook also said even if they could hire and train more staff, other departments they work with on licensing issues won't do the same.
"We don't anticipate our partner departments will have additional staff devoted to this alone, and we work very closely with other departments," Cook said. "We just don't anticipate that those other departments will have the additional staffing, and we at city licensing do a myriad of other things."
In addition, Boulder also does not want any new recreational marijuana applications until June because of a legislative error this year that prevents cities from obtaining access to background checks done by the state on applicants. But the city said the author of the bill acknowledged the omission and plans on correcting it by June.
In the meantime, Boulder can move forward converting medical marijuana licenses because those applicants have already gone through background checks.
"One reason we can do it before we get the background checks is that it's just a conversion," Haddock said. "They've already had checks done."
In a memo to city council, staff said it could possibly speed things up by halting medical marijuana applications in November and starting the conversions in January, but added that would put a strain on the licensing office.
Coleman, however, said none of the city's reasons for delaying the conversions are logical and compared the delay to the recent federal government shutdown. He said the city was simply dragging its feet, hoping that delay would help to stop the recreational marijuana movement.
"That is the motivation here," he said. "They don't want recreational marijuana so they are going to delay it as long as possible. January 2, that's acceptable but not ideal. But June, that's not acceptable."