Council considers cannabis rules and regs

A protest against a Denver city ordinance on marijuana.
Photo by Leland Rucker

The second reading for the rules and regulations under which retail marijuana outlets will be able to operate will be held at the Boulder City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17. Council members will get a chance to go into more detail about the staff recommendations presented at the Aug. 3 meeting, and there will be a public hearing. This isn’t the final vote — it will go to at least a third reading — but this is an important chance for citizens so inclined to air their viewpoints in front of council.

One issue at stake is the date when the city will begin taking retail licenses. The staff recommendation is June 1, 2014, with the reasoning that it will give it time to adjust to changes in the code. Given that applicants will need both state and local licenses, that would mean stores might not begin opening in Boulder at least until this time next year. Other cities working toward retail — Denver, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge and Nederland — have application dates of Oct. 1 of this year — two weeks from now — which would mean they could be open by Jan. 1, 2014, or a little later.

The industry argues that the staff application date will put local businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and there is certainly truth to that, since those curious and/or eager to buy from a legitimate source will head to Louisville or Nederland or Denver, where shops could be opening sooner than Boulder. When stores do open here, a lot of that out-of-town traffic will return — nobody wants to drive to Denver just to buy something they should be able to get close to home. But the sooner we can bring illegal consumers into legal stores the better, especially if one goal of Amendment 64 is to shut down or slow the illegal market and begin to collect the tax monies everybody is fantasizing about — there was some serious dreaming among members during first reading.

At the beginning, the only businesses that can apply for licenses are already-existing dispensaries, but since the rules and regs for retail are generally in line with medical rules, any business that has been following state laws (and living under the fear of a federal crackdown) shouldn’t have that much of a problem converting to retail, so the time delay seems unrealistic. Jan. 1, 2014 seems like a better target date.

Staff recommend a 1,000-plant limit per operation, with the reasoning that that’s all one staffer will be able to track. No other city is asking for this limit, and it certainly seems disingenuous to use a lack of staffing for basic regulation at the same time that marijuana tax money will be flowing into the general fund. If marijuana is going to become the possible cash cow that some on council and in the industry are expecting, wouldn’t it be prudent to add staff now to take care of the regulatory side with money generated by the increased taxes?

And given that licenses today for medical facilities can minimally be 1,800 plants, destroying plants at the same time that more product will be needed (and who knows how much that will be?) when retail stores open again seems counter-intuitive and expensive. The city would begin applying this regulation by spending considerable money to whittle down several existing inventories. To what end? To supply an expanding customer base with less product?

Another issue about which council aired concerns is whether existing businesses should be able to apply for licenses for both adult-use and medical. This doesn’t seem to be a question in any other jurisdiction. There are some issues to deal with about access by those under 21 who have medical marijuana cards, but I don’t see these as a hindrance to dual use. Each business would be applying for two city licenses, and existing businesses that have been following medical marijuana rules should be able to comply with two sets of regulations.

The staff memo asks that all retail businesses be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, daycare and universities. It was written about the time Attorney General Eric Holder’s memo concerning federal involvement in states that have legalized marijuana was released, and perhaps council should reconsider this in light of the memo. It states that the feds won’t interfere with businesses that follow state law.

If the 1,000-foot limit were imposed, at least four current businesses would have to relocate to apply for a retail license.

I personally don’t think the 500- or 1,000-foot limits are for anything more than showing citizens you’re trying to do something to keep it away from kids. We all want that, but kids aren’t getting their weed from the back doors of dispensaries. And if the 1,000-foot limit is imposed, at least grandfather those businesses in.

Finally, the Downtown Business District, on the day after the first reading, sent council a letter asking that in the downtown area, retail marijuana outlets only be allowed below-grade or on second floors or above.

“These businesses will operate with very high profit margins and will likely be able to pay above-market rents. This provides a distinct advantage over traditional retailers and restaurants,” the letter explains.

What it really says is that if downtown has to put up with retail marijuana, let’s make it as difficult as possible for owners to find space, hide the ones that get in as best we can and try and pretend they aren’t there.

Nobody knows what will happen, but I’m guessing that someone who stays at the Boulderado and wants to buy a joint before she goes into an expensive Pearl Street restaurant and later buys a souvenir isn’t going to be a member of the Rainbow people, and she might be checking the Downtown Boulder Inc. website for advice while she’s here, too.

I hope council sees this request for what it is and denies it immediately.

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