The last time the Ouray City Council tackled the topic of marijuana, it turned into a contentious and impassioned months-long debate that in one instance saw over a hundred citizens show up at a meeting to protest the specter of medical marijuana dispensaries and grow facilities within city limits. Council, which could have made a decision on the matter themselves, ended up punting it to Ouray voters, the majority of whom ultimately voted against allowing medical pot to be grown and sold locally in the 2010 election.
That all seems to be a moot point now that Amendment 64 has passed, legalizing recreational pot in Colorado. However, while council can do nothing to prevent individuals over the age of 21 from possessing, using, displaying, purchasing and transporting an ounce or less of weed, or cultivating up to six plants, there are measures municipalities can take to prevent marijuana-related businesses such as head shops, grow facilities and product manufacturing facilities from setting up shop.
Local governments have the ability to ban such business by ordinance or refer a measure to voters, or alternatively, voters could file a petition for an initiated measure, which must be on the ballot during an even election year. Since the soonest that a vote on the matter could take place is 2014, municipalities also have the option to enact a moratorium on pot-related businesses that would cover the time when Amendment 64 fully goes into effect in Oct. 2013 until the election the following year. Alternatively, municipalities can choose to adopt strict zoning restrictions which would give city officials more control over where pot shops could be located.
At Monday’s Ouray City Council meeting, City Attorney Kathryn Sellars reviewed all of these options, and prompted council to start developing a general sense of how they want to handle the matter in the coming months.
It’s not particularly urgent that they do so – yet. Amendment 64 itself contains provision that enforces a statewide moratorium on new recreational marijuana-related businesses in the state until Oct. 1, at which time the city must adopt its own regulations if it wishes to do so.
Yet even in these very preliminary discussions, council revealed a deep split over how they might proceed on the matter, with Councilor John Ferguson on one side arguing that Colorado voters had decided the matter and “as far as I know Ouray is a part of the State of Colorado,” and Councilor Richard Kersen on the other, arguing that “it should be the right of the citizens of Ouray, not Ridgway and the rest of Colorado, to decide.
“We all live here for a reason,” Kersen said.
“And it’s not to be in a repressive environment,” Ferguson retorted.
If council is going to enact its own moratorium in October, it must set those wheels in motion by July 1. If it opts for more zoning regulations on pot-related businesses in town, the matter must be handed over to the City Planning Commission.
In other news, council tussled over whether to grant a request from the Ouray Public Library to waive the users fee for the Ouray Community Center for an upcoming book event, and ended up doing so, in spite of staff’s recommendation against it. The city generally charges local nonprofit organizations $65 to use the Community Center.
Council also voted down a request from the Ouray Beautification Committee to install a permanent ornamental electric tree in the town park, to replace a real flowering fruit tree which a bear had recently destroyed.
Kersen said he would much rather see the Beautification Committee plant real trees than buy fake ones.
No members of the Beautification Committee were present to defend their request.