OURAY BRIEFS | Fate of Retail Pot Now Lies in Hands of Voters

09/04/14 | By | 76 More

OURAY – It’s official. Ouray voters will decide in November whether to follow Ridgway’s example and allow retail marijuana stores in town.

The Ouray City Council finalized language for the ballot question on Tuesday this week. The simple yes-or-no question asks voters, “Shall the establishment and operation of retail marijuana stores be permitted in the City of Ouray, Colorado subject to the requirements of the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code and the regulations to be adopted by the City of Ouray?” 

Ouray voters rejected a ballot question in 2010 that would have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries in town, but two years later, the majority of Ouray’s electorate voted in favor of Amendment 64, legalizing marijuana possession, use, and retail sales in Colorado. 

While some aspects of Amendment 64 regarding the legalization of personal use of marijuana went into immediate effect with the bill’s passage, the new law gave communities in Colorado local control over how, or whether, to allow the commercial sale of marijuana for recreational use in their own jurisdictions, before the state started issuing licenses in January 2014. 

As such, council had the option to impose an outright ban, (such as the one that the City of Montrose has imposed), or alternatively could have agreed to allow commercial recreational pot shops within city limits and to develop its own local regulations (the path that the Town of Ridgway took). 

Instead, council ultimately opted last summer to impose a moratorium until Nov. 2014 and let Ouray voters decide whether or not to allow commercial pot sales within city limits. In the meantime, the Ouray Planning Commission has spent the past several months developing proposed local regulations for council to consider adopting, in the event that voters approve the retail marijuana question.  

Given that there has been a complete turnover of council members over the past year, there was the possibility that the new council members would reject the path set out by the previous council, and instead ban retail pot sales by ordinance. While some councilors were inclined to do so, in the end they unanimously opted in favor of sending the matter to the ballot.

However, council did take formal action this week to ban by ordinance three related types of marijuana businesses within city limits, including cultivation, product manufacturing and testing facilities, rather than allowing voters to decide on these matters. 

Larson stressed that the reason behind banning these uses by ordinance was ultimately to provide more flexibility in the future, since there are still a lot of unknowns regarding how the marijuana industry will unfold, and the impacts it will have on local communities. She pointed out that it is relatively easy for council to repeal an ordinance, but much more difficult to change something once voters have approved it. 

Councilor Glenn Boyd was the only councilor who objected to banning the three uses by ordinance. “We promised to put it before the voters,” he countered. “I don’t think there is a place to grow [marijuana on a commercial scale in Ouray], but since we said we would put it before the voters, I think we should.”

After some discussion, council also agreed to put a question on the ballot concerning whether to assess an additional excise tax of 5% above Ouray’s regular sales tax rate on marijuana sales in the county, should the retail pot ballot question pass.

City Clerk Kathy Elmont projected that the excise tax would bring about $53,000 above and beyond normal sales tax revenues into the city coffers on an annual basis. The ballot question does not seek to earmark these hypothetical funds, which would flow directly into the city’s general fund. 

Boyd made a motion to pass a resolution sending the excise tax question to the ballot. The motion passed 4-1, with Councilor Hilton opposed. 

At Tuesday’s meeting Chris Sanchez of Acme Healing Centers and Grand Mesa Growers – currently the only retail marijuana and grow operation in the county – answered a number of questions from council, having to do with his business, and the retail marijuana industry in general. 

He said that there have been no crime or security concerns at any of Acme’s retail or medical marijuana dispensary locations in Ridgway, Crested Butte and Durango, nor at his grow facility in Ouray County, just south of Ridgway. 

Answering a question from Councilor Bette Maurer about odor issues, Sanchez said that the odor emanating from his retail stores and dispensaries is “not overwhelming, but there is somewhat of a smell,” which can be contained to the premises by use of an air filter.

De-Brucing Question Heads to Ballot

The Ouray Council rapidly dispatched with an agenda item pertaining to the proposed “de-Brucing” of the city’s property tax revenues, unanimously agreeing to send the question to the ballot. Council will bring in a guest speaker to discuss the matter in a public forum sometime within the next month. 

New Councilors Sworn In

Newly appointed Ouray City councilors Dee Hilton and Carl Cockle were sworn in at Tuesday’s council meeting, and Councilor Glenn Boyd was appointed to the position of Mayor Pro Tem, filling a position most recently held by John Ferguson who resigned from council in July. Mayor Pam Larson noted that Boyd is now “the senior person on the council, and also the youngest.” 

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

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