Existing medical marijuana businesses could have to wait until June 2014 to apply to convert to recreational pot businesses, and they would be limited to 1,000 plants under regulations that received initial approval from the Boulder City Council on Tuesday night.
The businesses could not hold dual recreational and medical licenses, and five existing dispensaries would not be able to convert because the required buffer around schools and daycares would expand from 500 to 1,000 feet.
The regulations would be stricter than those in most other Colorado cities that plan to allow recreational marijuana businesses at all.
Several marijuana business owners said those rules would put them at a competitive disadvantage to pot shops in Denver, a concern that was echoed by a number of City Council members.
Eight of Boulder's nine City Council members gave initial approval to the ordinance on the first reading.
Councilman Macon Cowles, who made the strongest criticisms of the proposal, was out of the room at the time of the vote.
A second reading and public hearing on the ordinance are set for Sept. 17.
Jeff Kless, owner of Helping Hands Herbal, said limiting marijuana businesses to 1,000 plants would severely limit the number of customers they could serve.
The number of plants a medical marijuana dispensary can have is regulated by the number of patients, and there is no set amount.
"If an industry was proposed to the city that would do as much for the city, to rent more than 100 locations, to hire so many architects and engineers, to pay so much in taxes, it seems that the council would advise staff to help that industry and not impose new rules to make it more difficult for us," Kless said.
City Council members marveled at the amount of marijuana that business owners believe they will be able to sell, with each plant estimated to produce between 1 and 4 pounds of marijuana.
City officials said they believe 1,000 plants is the most that inspectors can reasonably manage in a single facility.
Shawn Coleman, a consultant who works with the marijuana industry, said the number of plants is not a good proxy for the amount of marijuana being sold because some strains produce very little but might have other properties a grower desires.
Cowles said he would like the city to lift the 1,000-plant limit and let the market determine the size of marijuana businesses.
He said he'd also like to see dual licensing, which many other cities plan to allow, and conversions allowed as of Jan. 1, 2014. If the city needs to hire more staff to manage the process, then it should hire more staff, he said.
"I don't want to see new regulations put existing businesses out of business," he said.
Asked about Boulder's proposed regulations being stricter than other cities, Boulder police Sgt. Jeff Kessler said Boulder is regularly lauded as a leader in medical marijuana regulation, in part because it is so strict.
"I don't think we need to emulate anybody else because no one else has proven anything," he said.
Kessler said just four existing grow operations would be affected by the 1,000-plant limit.
Councilman Ken Wilson said the city is in uncharted territory, and increased access to marijuana will have consequences.
"We're going to do this because it's what the voters wanted, but this is a serious issue for this community," he said. "The states of Colorado and Washington are going to be the guinea pigs for what it's really going to be like."