Ushering in a new era of marijuana policy in Boulder

0
Wikimedia Commons

Boulder City Council and staff are structuring and compiling an advisory panel to research and make recommendations towards the city’s regulation of marijuana, to convene January 2016. As the marijuana industry matures, the City is working to update codes and create forward-looking regulations. The 10-member panel will be balanced between industry professionals and key stakeholders outside of the industry.

“The city was a pioneer in creating ordinances for medical marijuana and establishing best practices that were adopted throughout the state for this new industry,” wrote City Manager Jane Brautigan in a press release. “Now it’s time to focus our efforts on standards that ensure a safe industry, and the role marijuana businesses play in the community.”

Boulder is well positioned to lead industry regulations and, at times in the past, it has risen as a leader. But it has also floundered, alienating the industry with overbearing codes, contradictory enforcement and reactive amendments, earning Boulder the reputation as one of the most difficult cities to run a marijuana business.

Boulder’s decision to create an advisory panel is a welcome move, but is not pioneering. Formation of advisory panels have been, and continue to be, an industry best practice in states with, or considering, legalized marijuana. Denver has formed several and successfully implemented their work into city policy, as has Portland, Seattle and San Francisco.

Among the first to make comments at the Dec. 8 study session was Councilmember Lisa Morzel relating her experience on the Governor’s task force in 2012.

“It was a very well balanced group of people with different perspectives,” Morzel says. “We started with the assumption that this was a legal substance now and that we weren’t there to change that status. The assumption was that we deal with what the law was on the books and then we deal with how we implement the rules.” As council looks to create and set the scope of the Marijuana Advisory Panel, Morzel’s comment sets the tone to move into a new era of regulation. The focus of the group ought not be how to defend against the industry, but how to steward it in a straightforward manner, easy to understand by all stakeholders.

The initiative to create the panel in September of this year arose out of frustration by industry players who found the discrepancies between state and city codes to be injurious to business. Then Councilmember Macon Cowles suggested adopting the State’s regulations in order to minimize the conflict between the two documents, spurring a debate that led Council to direct staff to begin creating the advisory panel.

Although City Attorney Tom Carr strongly advocates against the adoption of State codes, others on City Council expressed interest in providing the topic as fodder for the panel’s consideration.

Other topics for the advisory panel include: advertising, public consumption, co-locating medical and recreational marijuana sales, and penalties for violations. The panel is not limited in their scope and may explore subject areas beyond those outlined.

The 10-member panel will include: representatives of marijuana consumers and marijuana businesses, the Boulder Valley School District, the University of Colorado and the Chamber of Commerce; representatives who can provide physical and mental health perspectives, including youth development theory and best practices in harm reduction/health promotion; an attorney experienced in representing marijuana businesses; and an individual familiar with state regulations, who will be an ex-officio member.

Intentionally not listed above are disproportionately affected populations, which Council chose not to list, citing a lack of data to justify their inclusion. With more information, these communities may be asked to give testimony to the panel.

City Manager Jane Brautigan is currently accepting letters of interest at brautigamj@bouldercolorado.gov. She will assemble a slate for presentation to City Council to comment on in January.

Two years after legalization, not only has the industry matured, but city regulators are doing what they can to keep pace, setting a new tone of collaboration. It seems city policy, once guarded by fear of marijuana, is now working to steward in a prosperous and healthy industry.