At this Monday’s council meeting, however, that formerly clear-cut course of action went up in smoke, as the majority of council reversed their former position and discussed imposing a moratorium instead, ultimately allowing Ouray’s electorate to decide in November 2014 whether commercial pot shops should be permitted.
You could tell it was going to be a doozy of a meeting from the number of chairs that were set up in Massard Hall at the Ouray Community Center – at least twice as many as usual. And indeed, by the time council reached the discussion item at the very bottom of the agenda regarding Amendment 64, most of those chairs were occupied by community members, many of whom were adamantly opposed to commercial recreational pot shops in Ouray.
While some aspects of Amendment 64 regarding the legalization of personal use of marijuana went into immediate effect with the bill’s passage last November, the new law gives 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 starts issuing licenses in January 2014.
As such, council could decide on an outright ban (such as the one that the City of Montrose recently imposed); could agree to allow commercial recreational pot shops within city limits and begin developing local regulations; or, could put the whole thing off by imposing a moratorium until Nov. 2014 and allow Ouray voters to decide whether or not to allow commercial pot sales within city limits.
Councilor Richard Kersen had requested that the matter be placed back on the agenda for discussion following council’s last meeting in June, at which four out of five councilors agreed to start moving forward with developing regulations for local implementation.
At that meeting, Kersen was the only councilor who spoke out against retail recreational pot shops in Ouray, while Councilor John Ferguson led the majority in directing staff to begin the process of developing regulations to manage retail sales.
At this Monday’s meeting, however, Councilor Michael Underwood took the lead, stating that he had done some soul searching on the matter, and had come to the conclusion that the best course would be to implement a moratorium until November 2014, when the matter can be put to a vote of the people. In the meantime, he proposed that staff and council should continue to move forward in discussions on how to implement Amendment 64, should the matter gain local approval in that election.
“I submit to everyone, what’s the hurry?” Underwood said. “I’m determined it’s a matter of enough social significance to allow a vote, and I would challenge council to adhere to the will of the people. I have a passion for democracy. We can choose to take our personal biases and impose those on the populace but I think that’s unfair and unwise. Our community is capable of making a decision for themselves.”
Kersen backed Underwood’s proposal, pointing to the dual nature of Amendment 64 and arguing that although 59 percent of Ouray’s electorate voted in favor of the amendment as a personal rights issue, many of those same people did not want to see pot shops in Ouray.
Ferguson, meanwhile, took exception to Underwood’s implication that democracy had not already taken place, and to Kersen’s suggestion that anyone would vote in favor of the amendment but not be in favor of fully implementing it in Ouray.
“I do think there has been a vote already on this issue, and it is naive and a little insulting to think they [the Ouray electorate] voted for Amendment 64 yet didn’t want it here,” Ferguson said. “That seems hypocritical and illogical. Another vote would be redundant.”
Mayor Bob Risch, meanwhile, staked out neutral ground but pointed out the potential revenue boost which local pot shops could bring to Ouray through excise taxes and sales taxes. “What impact this could have on us locally, we have no idea,” he said. “But it would be interesting to get more information.... Something we need to recognize is that 60 percent of Mexican drug cartel money comes from marijuana. I would prefer that be brought above ground; to me it is an enormous waste.”
Several community members in the audience took the opportunity to share their thoughts on the matter. Ken Garard and Bud Zanett, two members of the Ouray Planning Commission who are both adamantly against pot shops in Ouray, reemphasized points they had made at the last council meeting.
“I have talked to many people who voted for [Amendment] 64 and do not want [commercial pot shops] in Ouray,” Garard said. “You call it illogical, I call it reality. Ouray is primarily a family-oriented tourist destination town. Marijuana doesn’t fit with that; it’s an incompatibility.”
The audience burst into applause as Garard concluded his remarks, but Risch quelled the outburst with a sharp comment:
“We will not have applause. I’m sorry. We don’t need that.”
Local business owner Bruce Gulde offered a counter-argument to Garard’s lengthy speech, stating that commercial recreational pot shops have the potential to significantly boost the city’s coffers. “The bottom line is, it comes down to the bottom line,” he said. “[Commercial pot shops] should be allowed, zoned and regulated, and taxed to the maximum for benefits of the City of Ouray.”
If anyone wanted to discuss the matter further, he wryly remarked, “We can talk about it at one of the many revenue-producing bars on Main Street.”
Pollyanna Marigold said that while she advocates federally legalizing marijuana “just like spinach”, she also believes in the right of states, cities and counties to choose whether to allow marijuana-based businesses.
“The little city of Ouray has a character, a reputation,” she said. “I live here because I feel safe here. If you bring retail marijuana to a town this small, you will draw riffraff; they use it to party and get down and be cool, and manipulate young people with the effects of the drug. It will bring more unwanted pregnancies.”
Barry McClennan embodied the anti-pot sentiment that hung in the room, asking rhetorically, “Would you rather have your kids playing frisbee in the park, or smoking a bong or a dube?”
Discussion eventually wound its way back to council, with Kersen pushing for a commitment from council to move toward a moratorium and ballot question in 2014.
But Mayor Risch refused to be rushed, particularly since Councilor Hansen was absent from Monday’s discussion. “I need a lot more information,” Risch said. “Let’s give it two more weeks.”
Risch instructed staff to come back to the next council meeting on Monday, July 15 with language for a moratorium, for council to discuss and act upon.