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Colorado Localities Make Own Rules On MJ Sales

As Colorado moves closer to issuing temporary regulations on the sale of marijuana, now legal in small quantities here, some cities and towns are not waiting for the new rules to take effect.

More than a dozen municipalities across the state have decided to enact moratoriums on retail marijuana sales, restricting them for now or at least until after the rules are finalized later this year.

Others, unsettled at the prospect of dispensaries within their borders, have banned marijuana sales entirely — which they are permitted to do under Amendment 64, the 2012 constitutional amendment passed by voters that legalized recreational use of the drug.

“As we talked to our police department and our building code enforcement people, it didn’t seem to be a very logical answer for us,” said Mayor Tom Norton of Greeley, a conservative farm town north of Denver that banned marijuana sales outright this month. “It seemed like it had the potential for creating more mischief than what we wanted to put up with.”

Discussions about how marijuana is to be regulated, and how the state will handle a legal drug market, played a central role during Colorado’s 2013 legislative session. Meanwhile, communities from Littleton to Vail have taken it upon themselves to ponder the issue publicly.

In the past six months, a task force of lawmakers, representatives of the state’s growing marijuana industry and others have wrestled with developing the rules.

Initial regulations, including licensing provisions — described as “emergency rules” by the Colorado Department of Revenue — will go into effect on July 1. Permanent rules will be drafted later this summer.

Voters will also consider proposed sales and excise taxes on marijuana on the ballot in November. The first license to sell marijuana in Colorado will not be issued until 2014.

But in the meantime, local governments have until October to decide whether they will allow licensed marijuana businesses to start operating in their areas early next year.

Not surprisingly, reactions in Colorado’s communities have varied according to whether their citizens supported Amendment 64.

In Denver, where residents overwhelmingly backed the measure and medical marijuana dispensaries line thoroughfares, city councilors have indicated their desire to move forward with marijuana sales.

Smaller communities like Montrose, the seat of Montrose County, where most voters opposed legalization, have chosen to prohibit sales.

Some have opted for a middle ground.

City councilors here in Aurora, for example, voted last week to delay the date when residents could start applying for marijuana business licenses to next May, so that local officials could take more time to devise their own regulations.

“There is another legislative session next year following the ballot issue this fall, which could change everything,” Mayor Steve Hogan said. “We’re interested in the possibilities related to retail establishments. But we’re not going to do anything until next spring.”

According to data compiled by the Colorado Municipal League, nearly three dozen cities and towns have banned retail marijuana sales outright so far, while 25 have passed moratoriums.

But Christian Sederberg, a lawyer with the Amendment 64 campaign, pointed out that many local governments had taken no action and were planning to embrace the new law.

And he said he thought it was more prudent for officials to examine the regulations after they were codified before deciding on a full-scale ban.

“I think opting out before you’ve seen the regulations on July 1 is premature,” he said. “A lot of these officials don’t understand that there is nothing compelling them to act right now.”

If, after reviewing the final rules, a community opts out, “then that’s something people can live with,” he added.

Officials in the state’s second-largest city, Colorado Springs, will be weighing the issue at a meeting this month.

Voters in El Paso County, where the city is situated, were split down the middle on the question of legalization.

The City Council president, Keith King, said he believed most residents were in favor of a moratorium on marijuana sales until the final rules and taxes were fully in place.

“For us, we’re making sure our approach doesn’t hurt the military bases here and doesn’t hurt the economy,” Mr. King said. “We’ll be very deliberative on this and take our time, no matter which way we go.”

A version of this article appeared in print on June 13, 2013, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Decisions About Marijuana Sales Loom for Colorado Localities.

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Dan Frosch
Published: June 13, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The New York Times Company

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