If 2012 is remembered as the year Colorado voters approved the recreational use and sale of marijuana, 2013 was the year in which counties and municipalities decided if, and then how, to permit the sale of recreational marijuana in their jurisdictions.
The variety of decisions across the Western San Juans, from prohibition to green-lighting, generated news almost weekly, making the legal sale and use of recreational marijuana The Watch’s No. 2 story of 2013.
In May, seven months after Amendment 64 was approved by voters, the Colorado Legislature completed a long legislative process to pass four bills related to the licensing and use of marijuana in the state, including a maximum of one ounce of pot allowed per purchase, a ban on marijuana coffeeshops, and setting a “stoned-driving” limit.
Elected officials in Montrose County (and in the City of Montrose), where Amendment 64 was relatively unpopular, wasted no time in prohibiting the sale of marijuana.
“I wasn't too concerned what the state was doing, as much as what a majority of the citizens voted in Montrose County,” Montrose City Councilor Thomas Smits said in May, when council took its first step in making Montose one of the state’s first municipalities to permanently prohibit retail marijuana sales. “The important thing was [that] the State Constitutional Amendment allowed local municipalities to opt out, and I think that's what we’re doing.”
The next month, the Montrose Board of County Commissioners followed suit, passing passed an ordinance prohibiting the commercial cultivation, manufacture, sale and testing of retail recreational marijuana.
While Montrose wasted no time prohibiting the sale of marijuana, San Miguel County and the Town of Telluride, upon mid-year receipt of taxing regulations from the state, wasted no time setting regulations allowing the sale of recreational pot.
In September, Telluride became one of the few municipalities on the Western Slope to approve recreational-pot sales, after Town Council approved a regulatory framework allowing the handful of medical marijuana dispensaries to transition into recreational retail stores. Telluride’s new regulations also spelled out that retail pot shops must be at a minimum of 500 feet from schools (among other restrictions).
That same month, the San Miguel County Commissioners approved a series of licensing regulations, with a focus on cultivation facilities as potential commercial growers eyed cheaper, larger properties in the unincorporated areas of the county.
San Miguel County issued four categories of licenses: for manufacturing facilities, retail stores, cultivation facilities and testing facilities, and required that retail marijuana shops would be allowed where already approved – in Telluride.
“I do not represent the minority of voters, I represent the majority,” Commissioner Art Goodtimes told Norwood resident David Watson, who worried that the county and state government could potentially lose valuable federal dollars by legalizing marijuana commerce, possession and use. “And the majority said that recreational marijuana should be legal, and I will respect that view.”
Relief on that front came to potential pot retailers in September, with the Obama Administration’s announcement that it would not challenge new laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington states.
True to form, Ouray County and its municipalities were less permissive than San Miguel, but more permissive than Montrose. In August, the Ridgway Town Council voted to approve retail marijuana sales, with a limit on the number of medical marijuana and retail marijuana store licenses the town can issue at four.
The Ouray County Commissioners eventually passed a prohibition on retail sales and cultivation of marijuana, and the City of Ouray passed a moratorium on retails sales through 2014.
In Mountain Village, the question of pot shops remains open, with council’s 3-3 tie on an ordinance that would allow retail shops in Mountain Village.