MONTROSE — Citing public health safety, economic well being and the preservation of peace, the Montrose City Council Tuesday unanimously approved the first reading of city ordinance 2309, a temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana retail dispensaries within the city following recent statewide approval.
A public hearing and second vote has been scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. at the city council chambers. The temporary moratorium is written to take effect on Dec. 4 and last through May 3, 2013, giving the state time to hand down rules and regulation on the retail sale of marijuana to municipalities across Colorado.
Councilor Kathy Ellis was not in attendance for Tuesday's vote.
The council voted during a special meeting on Nov. 8, two days after State Constitutional Amendment 64 passed allowing people 21 and older in Colorado to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and grow up to six plants in their homes.
Statewide, Amendment 64 passed with nearly 55 percent in favor to 45 percent against, with 56 percent of voters in Montrose county voting against the amendment.
City Manager Bill Bell said the moratorium gives the city a "waiting period to see what the state chooses to do…and how that trickles down to the communities.
"At that point when, we hear back from the state we can revisit this again and decide if we want to extend the moratorium or if we want to eliminate the moratorium," Bell said.
Bell added that the language used in the ordinance is the same as language used a few years ago, when the city banned medical marijuana dispensaries within the city. Currently, two dispensaries are operating within Montrose county.”
"One of the real reasons that this is an important thing for us to consider is that we don't have a regulatory framework to control the quality and safety of this product in any fashion,” said councilor Bob Nicholson, “and I think it's inappropriate for us to license a facility to sell something when we don't have a quality standard or a safety standard for."Even with the amendment’s passage, recreational marijuana retail stores can not legally open anywhere within Colorado before Oct. 1, 2013, the day the Department of Revenue is expected to begin accepting and processing applications for marijuana businesses.
The State has until July 1, 2013, to adopt regulations for the implementation of marijuana businesses.
The individual liberties associated with the Colorado amendment, such as the right to smoke and possess up to an ounce of marijuana, could take effect as soon as Gov. John Hickenlooper certifies the amendment, however. That verification is expected to come either before the end of the year or by the State deadline of Jan. 5, 2013.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has said his office is awaiting word from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington, D.C. about how to proceed. State legislatures in Colorado, and in Washington State, where voters also approved the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, are exploring the regulation and taxation of marijuana, while waiting to see of the Justice Department will assert federal authority.
The federal government could toss the marijuana issue back to the states, although no details regarding a possible mandate that could allow states to opt out of federal enforcement have been released.
"Until we understand what the federal reaction to the law is going to be, I don't think we should be licensing anybody,” Nicholson said. “I think it could be a serious mistake."
Suthers has said previously that the State’s marijuana vote was "very bad public policy," but that the State Attorney General's office "will move forward in assisting the pertinent executive branch agencies to implement this new provision in the Colorado Constitution."
The Steamboat Springs City Council voted last week to table its consideration of a similar moratorium, agreeing it was "unnecessary," because the a statewide ban is in effect until Oct. 1, 2013.
In other city news, the Montrose City Council also voted unanimously to approve a Mill Levy of 5 mils to help fund the nonprofit Downtown Development Association. The levy would be imposed from Jan. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2013.
According to DDA Executive Director Scott Shine, the levy yields about $124,000 to the organization to help improve the economical climate of Montrose's downtown through promotion and development.
Also on Tuesday, Montrose Mayor Thomas Smits signed and declared the month of November the “Month of Hospice and Palliative Care.”