by Rick Langenberg:
Local adults will soon be able to light up a marijuana joint inside the city limits of Woodland Park or grow a few cannabis plants in their back yard, but they can’t buy the drug at a WP store or business. If fact, they may have to purchase marijuana illegally or check out if the officer following them is displaying a federal badge. And at the same time, they can’t consume pot in a public setting.
Confused? Well, join the growing list of law officers, elected politicians and citizens who are now scratching their heads in trying to figure out the impacts of Amendment 64, the pro-recreational marijuana law passed by the voters of Colorado on Nov. 6. Despite the apparent confusion and the obvious conflicts between state and federal drug enforcement policies, the city of Woodland Park has become the first municipality in the area to enter the tricky recreational-marijuana trenches.
The city council last week unanimously passed the first reading of a law that eliminates the town’s municipal rules against pot possession for adults. In essence, this measure rescinds any city penalties for adults (18 years and older) who possess pot or related drug paraphernalia. If the change is approved during a public hearing on Jan. 3, the local police would no longer cite any adults for marijuana violations, unless they exceed the limits of Amendment 64.
Although several elected leaders made it clear they aren’t happy with the changes at a previous meeting, the council passed the measure without any debate. A few leaders raised concerns about why the changes to the city’s municipal code lists 18 years of age as the cut off point for marijuana citations, instead of 21 years, the threshold used in the state amendment.
But according to Woodland Park Police Chief Bob Larson, this change is proposed as a community benefit, so teens caught smoking pot or our using marijuana can have their cases reviewed by the Woodland Park Teen Court and won’t get targeted by juvenile or district court. Larson told the council that the teen court has achieved much success in handling these cases, with the amount of repeat offenders much lower than other courts. He wanted to make the changes so teens will have the opportunity of probation and won’t have a criminal record. “The municipal court would have more authority (in dealing with these types of teen cases),” explained Larson.”It does away with the possibility of jail. It allows us to keep this within our city.” And based on city crime trends, he cautioned the council that 19 and 20-year-olds, cited for marijuana possession, are usually involved in other crimes.
Following Larson’s explanation, the council endorsed the code change.
Don’t hold any pot-smoking parties yet
But while this proposed code change may be viewed as a victory for the local pro-marijuana movement, the council, in somewhat of an about-face move, also last week initiated an immediate cannabis-related moratorium. This could represent the first step in outlawing the sale of pot at any local establishment or business within the city limits of Woodland Park.
With little discussion and at the recommendation of city attorney Erin Smith, Woodland enacted a temporary marijuana moratorium until July 1, 2013. This puts an immediate half to the issuing of any permits and licenses for future marijuana establishments. It also gives the city more time to investigate more long-term regulations it may impose, such as an outright ban of commercial sales outlets, or the development of land use rules for these types of businesses. The emergency edict lists potential conflicts with the city’s master plan as a big concern with the development of marijuana-related sales outlets.
If history repeats itself and based on previous sentiments of the current council, Woodland Park will most likely enact a permanent ban on commercial outlets for marijuana. However, Smith has expressed a desire to declare a temporary time-out to see how the marijuana scenario in Colorado plays out.
Similar sentiments were also voiced last week by Jim Ignatius, the chairman of the Teller County commissioners. If he had his druthers, Ignatius, who once supported efforts to regulate the medical marijuana industry, wished the issue would have been handled by the state legislature initially to address some of the inherent conflicts.
Ignatius cited Amendment 64 as an example of a voter-approved measure that may have good intentions, but is posing major questions from an implementation standpoint. “It is going to be quite a challenge,” said the board chairman. Ignatius says the deadlines set by the law authors are extremely tough to meet. “It is almost impossible,” said Ignatius, who cited the large number of planning sessions and committee hearings that have to occur to fully implement the law.
The pro-marijuana law has set July 1 as the deadline for the state to compile rules for the handling of commercial marijuana outlets, where people can legally buy pot. Another tricky arena deals with the amendment’s rules against smoking pot in public. How this can be enforced is still raising questions. In addition, Ignatius cited the legal hurdles of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that restricts how much extra tax money government entities can take in without a public vote. One of the enticements for Amendment 64 deal with tens of millions of extra tax revenue the law would generate on an annual basis.