If Amendment 64 supporters needed a reminder that almost 45 percent of Coloradans voted against legalizing cannabis, the Colorado Springs City Council’s ban on retail stores came with a caveat: Mayor Steve Bach said that as long as he was in charge, he would veto any attempt to overturn the council’s decision. “This is so important to our community and in our best interest that I will respectfully need to veto anything short of opting out,” he said.
Colorado Springs is just the most recent, joining many cities, including Erie, Lafayette, Longmont and Broomfield locally, that have outright banned or put a moratorium on retail cannabis sales. There are a few outliers keeping their options open, but the only large cities still considering retail outlets that, by law, can open on Jan. 1, 2014, are Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver.
A recent audit of the city of Denver’s regulation of medical marijuana indicated serious problems with records, data, policy, procedures, communication and process. This comes at an unfortunate time, especially since the federal government, which has raided medical operations in California and, last week, in Washington state, might start sniffing around the Front Range too, if it sees lax enforcement of current laws.
If anything, the city of Boulder is known for its strict and bountiful rules and regulations. As a former member of a city board, I can attest to that. So I wondered how Boulder is faring as it moves toward opening retail stores and how its policies are working and will change.
The Denver audit found poorly realized rules and casual enforcement. Regulators claim budget cuts are to blame, although the report indicates the problems go much deeper than that. How is Boulder avoiding Denver’s pratfalls?
City spokesperson Sarah Huntley says that Boulder, which does about 10 percent of the volume of cannabis business as Denver, considers itself strong in all seven areas where concerns were raised in Denver. Records are kept in writing, and policies and procedures have been established, posted on the city website. “While it has been difficult getting coordination with the state, the city does keep records of the state licenses issued for businesses in the city,” Huntley says. “Deadlines are established and enforced for all requirements. The city has been through the annual renewal process for all of the licenses that have been issued, and some businesses have been through their second annual renewal.”
She says the city is looking closely at the possible impacts of only a few cities allowing retail operations. “One of the reasons for imposing a tax on this industry, whether it is a sales tax, an excise tax, or both, is to defray the costs of those impacts,” she says. “Staff also will recommend to council to continue with our active enforcement and strict licensing requirements. We will keep an eye on our local laws to make sure that prosecutions can occur when appropriate.”
The renewal process includes inspections by police, code enforcement and fire, so if a business has missed a deadline, if would be caught at the annual inspection, she says. “All information is updated in the city’s paper files and on the city’s database when initial or additional significant information is submitted by a business and each inspection by any city staff.”
Huntley says that all departments work together to inspect premise locations before city licenses are issued and for yearly renewals, and complete random on-site inspections are conducted if there are complaints or concerns.
Huntley says the city doesn’t expect the crush of applications it had in 2010. Density rules are already in place — for instance, no more than three medical marijuana retail locations within 500 feet of each other — that staff would like to see extended to recreational facilities as well.
To deal with the changeover to retail, staff is suggesting that the city put a moratorium on accepting new medical marijuana business license applications between March 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2015. “The goal will be to start taking recreational marijuana conversions on June 1, 2014,” she says. “Then from June 1, 2014, to Oct. 1, 2014, staff would only be processing conversions of already issued city medical marijuana businesses (the current number is 67). We think that this stoppage of processing MMBs should allow us to work through conversions in a timely way.”
As to when retail businesses might actually open, it’s still hard to say. Council will have final say on the staff proposals at a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 5. Prospective businesses need both state and city licenses to operate, and they can’t apply for state licenses until the city begins accepting applications. So if council takes staff’s suggestion, businesses could begin applying for state and city licenses on June 1, 2014.
The state has 90 days to comply with requests, which, if accepted, would then go through the city application process. If everything worked precisely and efficiently, that would make it possible for retail stores to begin opening in October 2014.
But nobody thinks it will happen that easily or quickly, so we probably won’t see retail shops here until late 2014 or early 2015.
We should know more when City Council takes up the cannabis issue with other potential tax-related ballot items at the Aug. 5 meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
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