Cortez weighs retail pot ban

Hearing starts at 7:30 p.m.

A final reading and public hearing is held tonight at City Hall to extend a commercial marijuana moratorium until 2015.

The Cortez City Council voted unanimously last month to approve Ordinance No. 1190, which prohibits new medical or retail marijuana licenses through Dec. 31. If passed, the ordinance would replace a 10-month moratorium on recreational marijuana adopted last summer.

City Attorney Mike Green informed Cortez council members last month that Amendment 64 allows voters to decide if retail marijuana sales should be allowed within city limits. He added the city could also pass an ordinance to either regulate or prohibit commercial sales.

The city’s initial moratorium, scheduled to sunset June 30, was passed last August to allow the city additional time to examine the evolving issues surrounding commercial marijuana sales. Over the past nine months, city leaders had failed to address the issue.

“This (moratorium) formally buys us some time,” said Mayor Karen Sheek.

In May, four council members – Shawna McLaughlin, Bob Archibeque, Tom Butler and Orly Lucero – indicated they’d like voters to decide if retail marijuana sales should be legal in Cortez, while three others – Sheek, Ty Keel and Jim Price - insisted that voters had already decided the issue with the passage of Amendment 64.

Green was subsequently directed to develop ballot questions for both an up or down vote to license retail outlets and whether special excise taxes should be imposed on retail sales. An election would cost about $10,000, and city officials have until July 15 to include any commercial marijuana issue on November’s general election ballot.

City Manager Shane Hale reiterated that council could repeal or amend the moratorium before the end of the year and pass an ordinance to either prohibit or regulate commercial marijuana sales after Tuesday’s public hearing.

“You don’t have to take the whole year to figure out what you want to do,” Hale told council members.

The city has seven areas zoned for medical marijuana businesses, and retail marijuana outlets would likely be restricted to those same areas, if approved, according to Green.

Colorado became the first state to authorize and regulate commercial marijuana sales, which started on Jan. 1.

According to officials, the city’s four percent sales tax on medical marijuana products adds abouyt$50,000 annually to city coffers.

Tuesday’s public hearing starts at 7:30 p.m.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com