OURAY – Retail pot shops could soon be a reality in the City of Ouray, along with most of the rest of Colorado.
At a Ouray City Council meeting on Monday, June 17, the majority of council gave staff the go-ahead to start drafting regulations for how to locally implement Amendment 64, rather than pursuing a permanent ban or moratorium, or putting the matter to a vote of the city’s electorate.
Councilor Richard Kersen was the lone wolf speaking out against commercial recreational marijuana enterprises in Ouray. Kersen urged his fellow councilors to follow the City of Montrose’s recent example by becoming one of the few Colorado municipalities to permanently prohibit the retail sale of marijuana.
Councilor John Ferguson countered that implementing such a ban would be a “head in the sand” approach. “Prohibition has never worked,” he said. “Marijuana is coming more and more into our society whether we like it or not. I think prohibition says you are okay with an unregulated, untaxed criminal environment. Basically, it’s saying we’re not going to make any attempt to control it.”
Ferguson built a strong argument in favor of making Ouray retail pot-friendly, stressing the potential for marijuana sales to boost the town’s and school’s coffers. Amendment 64 was drafted to set aside the first $40 million from sales taxes for school construction, but communities that opt out of retail pot sales would not receive their share of these funds.
Ferguson also touched on the philosophical side of the pot debate, arguing that “marijuana laws have been a failed policy.”
Three years ago, the issue of medical marijuana polarized the Ouray community, with a crowd of close to 100 citizens barnstorming one council meeting in the summer of 2010 to urge council to put the matter on the local ballot for citizens to decide. A vote that fall resulted in a ban on medical marijuana facilities within city limits.
Now, with 59 percent of Ouray’s electorate having voted in favor of Amendment 64 last fall, the tide appears to have turned.
“I think the voters here in Ouray made their voices heard in the last election,” Ferguson said. “Amendment 64 was designed to encourage local government control and gives local government the power to develop regulations to control the time, manner and place in which marijuana can be sold.”
Ferguson argued for a so-called “single license system” modeled on the current liquor license system, in which the city would defer to state regulations and designate a local authority to approve each license if the state’s conditions are met.
Matters of local control related to zoning and so forth would be tackled first by the Ouray Planning Commission, then enacted by council.
Ironically, the only two members of the public who spoke at Monday’s council meeting in favor of banning retail pot sales in Ouray – Bud Zanett and Ken Garard – were also members of the Ouray Planning Commission which will now be tasked with figuring out how to locally implement Amendment 64.
“Speaking as a citizen, I think retail marijuana will change the character of Ouray forever,” Zanett said. “We are a small little cocoon here; where will we put it? A block away from the school? Gentlemen, you can’t do this. I think it is a horrendous mistake.”
When City Attorney Kathryn Sellars asked council for clear direction on how staff should proceed with Amendment 64 implementation, Councilor Michael Underwood was the only one who hedged. But as Ferguson, Mayor Bob Risch and Councilor Gary Hansen all indicated they were opposed to “prohibition,” Underwood too committed himself to this viewpoint.
“In the long term, the city would be better off imposing regulations on the sale of marijuana and make them as stringent as possible,” he said. “That is the most prudent long term solution, albeit distasteful.”
Sellars will now move forward with drafting regulations which will be presented to the Ouray Planning Commission for input later this summer.
“We have to get on the road,” Ferguson said. “If we sit back and keep putting it off, that is showing a lack of leadership.”
CITY TO ENACT FIRE RESTRICTIONS
Council voted unanimously on Monday night to enact Level 1 fire restrictions within the City of Ouray starting next week, following the example of Ouray County and other surrounding counties which enacted the same restrictions on Wednesday, June 19.
According to Ouray Volunteer Fire Department Chief Trevor Latta, the fire ban applies to all camp fires outside of designated camp grounds, open burning of any kind, personal fireworks and welding in unreasonable areas. Additionally, chain saw operations must use a spark arrester, and have a shovel and extinguisher nearby.
The ban does not affect the City of Ouray’s fireworks show at this point. “It’s not a heavy restriction; it will not affect tourism,” Latta assured council.
Campfires in designated campgrounds and chimeneas are still permitted under the ban, as are charcoal and gas barbecue grills.
Within the next week Mayor Bob Risch will issue a proclamation declaring the ban, and council will pass resolution at its next meeting to affirm the proclamation, or let it expire if conditions improve.
The City of Ouray will be writing a check for $11,000 to pay for the upcoming Fourth of July fireworks show. That bill is usually covered by the Ouray Chamber Resort Association, which does not currently have the funds available and asked if the city would float the money until the end of the month.
“We are on a deadline to place the order,” Rondinelli explained. Funds for the fireworks order will come out of the tourism fund, out of which the city writes a monthly check to OCRA for a little over $10,000 to help fund the organization’s marketing efforts. “If we haven’t received payment from OCRA by end of month, we won’t cut their monthly check,” Rondinelli said.