by Rick Langenberg:
Colorado voters may have said ‘yes’ to the legality of adults taking a few marijuana hits for fun and growing cannabis plant in their backyards, but their local leaders have alternative intentions with one stern message: Forget buying legal weed in our community or smoking joints in private clubs.
Last week, the El Paso County Commissioners made it official and outlawed any recreational marijuana stores or commercial sales opportunities in the unincorporated sections of El Paso, including the lower Ute Pass area. With this action, the commissioners may have killed a potential industry estimated at filling government coffers with thousands of dollars. And later in the week, the city of Woodland Park further expanded its moratorium against the issuing of permits for future marijuana businesses by passing the first reading of a law that temporarily bans pot clubs. The latter type of establishments have become one of the side-controversies of Amendment 64, with the possible advent of Amsterdam-like private clubs where people can gather to smoke pot and drink coffee or other non-alcoholic beverages. The current law doesn’t permit the smoking of pot in public areas, but it doesn’t impose any rules against private clubs as long as no commercial marijuana sales activity occurs.
The passage of these measures further reaffirms a growing backlash against Amendment 64 by local leaders. Elected leaders in Cripple Creek wasted little time in declaring their town as a “no reefer zone” regarding future retail pot outlets. They conceded that the town could receive some additional revenue from these types of businesses, but that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.
The only local entity staying on the marijuana sidelines is Teller County. Dave Paul, the new chairman of the Teller County Commissioners, has expressed no desire for their board to compile any type of marijuana regulations until the conflict over drug enforcement by state and federal authorities gets resolved. “It is a violation of federal law,” said Paul, when describing the regulations pertaining to using cannabis, in a recent interview. “It is still viewed as a Controlled Substance.” And even with statements by President Obama, indicating that the prosecution of marijuana offenses in states that have authorized the use of the drug isn’t a top priority, Paul doesn’t see any real clear direction for the state’s marijuana landscape. He says the county is putting the issue on hold until it gets more guidance by the state.
The complexity of the issue has definitely frustrated government leaders across Colorado. Many officials proclaim that the deadlines set by the authors of Amendment 64 are impossible to comply with. Former Teller Commission Chairman Jim Ignatius has referred to Amendment 64 as a citizen-generated proposal with good intentions, but one that could create unintended consequences. He said he would have preferred if the issue was handled by the state legislature initially to work out the obvious conflicts.
During last week’s hearing, the El Paso County Commissioners indicated that the main impetus behind their marijuana sales ban is to avoid potential lawsuits from potential companies that may start leasing building sites and buying equipment in anticipation of starting pot retail stores. But the commissioners’ ban actions would derail the prospects of current medical marijuana shops like the Eagle’s Nest in Cascade, from converting their operations into recreational marijuana stores
Woodland Park leaders have taken similar measures, but only through moratoriums expected to continue until July 1.
Last week, the council passed the first reading of a revised law that adds more ammunition to a ban issued last December. More notably, the new measure prohibits marijuana clubs. “Many communities in Colorado are seeing marijuana clubs,” stated City Attorney Erin smith.
For example, the formation of Club 64 (the name stems from the pro-marijuana law) in Denver, highlighted by a festive New Year’s Eve party, commanded national attention. These types of establishments don’t permit commercial sales of marijuana, but serve as an outlet for consumption of marijuana by adult patrons and sometimes offer snacks and beverages. This is a side of Amendment 64 that many opponents fear and has even created mixed sentiments by those who voted for the pro-marijuana measure.
Since the passage of Amendment 64, rumors have abounded regarding the formation of similar types of establishments in Woodland Park and Teller County. As a result, Smith indicated that the expanded moratorium would close any loopholes until city leaders decide what final action they can take regarding legal marijuana.
The council adopted the initial reading of its expanded moratorium with no hesitation. A final hearing on this law is set for Feb. 7. The last few council meetings have featured the adoption of local rules that deal with the new marijuana amendment.