County praised for process

“Yay!”

“Rasta Stevie” Smith’s enthusiastic comment was one of three that La Plata County commissioners heard about the county’s proposed ordinance regulating recreational marijuana sales.

The commissioners held a public hearing Tuesday about putting rules in place for retail pot sales and updating current medical marijuana code.

Commissioners voted to approve the first reading of the draft ordinances for regulating recreational pot sales and updating the medical marijuana code. The final vote is scheduled for June 10.

The Durango City Council held a public hearing on its draft ordinances Tuesday evening.

Smith complimented the commissioners for their energy, direction and openness – things he said the city of Durango lacks.

“I really appreciate you guys looking at this as an opportunity rather than (something fear-based) we need to protect ourselves from,” Smith said. “Good job, guys.”

Meeting attendees who spoke voiced some concerns about issues raised and not raised in the draft code.

John Strater from Albuquerque asked about bus tours, where people tour local dispensaries. Such tours have sprung up in other areas such as Denver.

Commissioner Julie Westendorff said the county hasn’t considered that yet.

County officials assured Smith that they would not require residents to lock up their bongs or other paraphernalia in their homes. He also supported longer hours at recreational shops than the current proposal of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“Treat it like alcohol,” he said.

Jonny Radding, co-owner of Durango Organics and Wellness Center, a medical marijuana dispensary, said the monetary penalties specified for violating county or state law, along with the language in the proposed ordinance, “made him nervous.” He said the amounts seemed too high.

Businesses that incur a severe penalty for impairing public safety can be fined up to $100,000 by state law. Included in that category is sales to people younger than 21, sales of more than the legal limit and labeling violations. Licensing violations such as minor clerical errors or errors in inventory tracking can earn a fine of up to $50,000. Businesses that are assessed infractions, including failure to notify the local licensing authority of a minor ownership change, can be fined up to $10,000.

“Some of the language was talking like not accompanying a visitor within our facility – that could trigger a $100,000 fine if we’re not accompanying them every second that they’re in there,” Radding said. “There’s people from the county that come and inspect our facility, and then they walk away from us for a couple minutes. For something like that to trigger something within the county to determine that’s up to a $100,000 fine seems crazy.”

Commissioner Gwen Lachelt questioned Deputy County Attorney Todd Weaver about requirements that licensees have good moral character, referring to a Durango Herald editorial that suggested the county was being “preachy.”

Weaver said demonstrating good moral character was not a new concept and also was used for state liquor license applications.

smueller@durangoherald.com