Cortez council nears pot decision

City may put issue on Aug. 12 agenda

A decision to prohibit or legalize commercial marijuana in Cortez could be settled next month.

City Manager Shane Hale said council members would take up the measure at its Aug. 12 meeting. It remains unknown if the agenda item would include both a prohibitive and enabling ordinance, he said.

“I need to discuss the logistics with Mike Green,” said Hale, referencing the city’s attorney.

Hale said he envisions including both draft ordinances, and then having one agenda item listed either to allow or to ban retail marijuana sales.

After a two-hour discussion on Tuesday, July 22, council members directed Hale to research operational costs of selling marijuana in Cortez. Fees for police, fire and building inspections, for example, would be assessed to business owners.

The decision to outlaw or permit retail sales would be subject public hearings, Hale said.

“They are weighing their decision heavily on the folks that they hear from,” Hale said. “So, testimony at the public hearings would likely shape the ultimate outcome.”

On Tuesday, Green presented the council with two draft ordinances. One would prohibit retail marijuana sales to adults, and the other would enable the industry to exist within city limits.

The 17-page draft ordinance to legalize commercial sales was developed using Steamboat Springs as a model, said Green, who added that he fused the strictest language possible.

“This is what city staff recommends as an ordinance,” Green told council members. “It’s a good starting point.”

As written, the ordinance would prohibit the manufacture of hash oil, commercial operations within 1,500 feet of any school and exterior signage larger than standard office paper using the words “marijuana,” “cannabis” or any other “symbol commonly understood to refer to marijuana.”

The proposed ordinance would also cap the number of retailers, require video surveillance along with burglary and fire-alarm systems and set operational and administrative fees.

During the workshop, it appeared that councilman Bob Archibeque was the staunchest opponent to legalization. The 34-year educator indicated the city shouldn’t send the wrong signal to youths.

“We have the right to run our community how we deem appropriate,” he said.

Council member Jim Price countered that retail marijuana could only be sold to adults 21 and older.

“Just because we allow it to be legally sold doesn’t mean the whole town is going to smoke pot,” he said.

Council members Orly Lucero and Tom Butler indicated they were straddling the fence.

“I’ve changed my mind on the issue so many times,” said Butler, shaking his head.

Mayor Karen Sheek and councilman Ty Keel indicated they favored commercial marijuana, saying access to the once-illicit commodity could be better controlled with regulations.

“Marijuana is here now whether we like it or not,” said Sheek. “We’re not going to put a lid on it.”

Last month, days before a commercial marijuana moratorium was to sunset, the council voted unanimously to extend its ban of retail marijuana sales through 2014. The initial moratorium was adopted last fall, four months before legalized sales on Jan. 1.

As a result of Amendment 64, Colorado became the first state to authorize and regulate commercial marijuana sales starting in 2014. In the first quarter, $7.3 million in state taxes was collected.

According to officials, the city’s 4 percent sales tax on medical marijuana adds about $50,000 annually to city coffers.