Cortez council adopts pot regulations

Ordinance to monitor marijuana storefronts and cultivation facilities is approved 5-2

After almost two hours of debate, Cortez City Council members voted 5-2 to adopt regulations to monitor and control retail marijuana storefronts along with cultivation and testing facilities.

Council members Bob Archibeque and Tom Butler voted against the 18-page measure, Ordinance No. 1192, Series 2014.

A generational divide was evident Tuesday as City Hall hosted a public hearing on the issue of marijuana legalization at the retail level.

Older residents, including some living in the county, opposed regulation of marijuana sales for adults 21 and over, saying cannabis was a federally prohibited “gateway drug” that jeopardized the rural community’s traditional way of life. One man claimed marijuana users would plot murders.

Younger residents said opponents were misinformed about marijuana, adding that Colorado voters approved recreational marijuana, which has been legal since Jan. 1. One supporter commented that the nation’s 40-year war on drugs was one of the country’s most “disastrous public policy failures.”

“The council should put kids first,” said Archibeque, who said that he has taught 14,000 students as a 40-year educator. “The kids are our most valuable resource.”

Mainly silent during the debate, council member Shawna McLaughlin said she too opposed the ordinance just two weeks ago, but then she toured one of the city’s four medical marijuana dispensaries. Priding herself as a pro-business public official, McLaughlin said the legitimate industry would provide needed higher paying jobs.

“I’ve had a flip-flop in my decision,” she said. “I think we should take the risk and legalize it.”

The local ordinance prohibits retail marijuana dispensaries from manufacturing marijuana-infused products, such as brownies and lotions. Under the law, retail dispensaries could sale cannabis infused products manufactured by outside wholesalers.

A Cortez moratorium on recreational marijuana remains in effect through Dec. 31, 2014. It’s unknown if the city would lift the temporary prohibition sooner.

Mayor Karen Sheek said the city had successfully implemented controls on medical marijuana dispensaries, adding that few problems had been encountered. She said regulating recreational marijuana on Main Street could help law enforcement better control the back-alley black market.

“Retail is the next step,” said Sheek.

Council member Ty Keel, a father of two and a teacher, dismissed several public comments that the city had a responsibility to manage the community’s conscious. He subsequently made the motion to adopt the ordinance.

“I’m morally opposed, but as public officials, we can’t make decisions based on our personal moral imperatives,” said Keel. “Prohibiting a legal industry authorized by the state constitution would be borderline dangerous.”

Council member Orly Lucero seconded the motion, saying that the city regulates much more dangerous drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.

“Marijuana is legal in this state,” he said.

Statewide, 90 towns have prohibited commercial marijuana businesses. Forty have adopted ordinances to regulate the industry, and 21 have moratoriums.

Under Colorado law, residents over the age of 21 can possess, use, display, gift or transport up to one ounce of marijuana as well as cultivate up to six marijuana plants.

The black market price for marijuana sold in Cortez is about $50 for a quarter ounce. One retail shop in Telluride, the nearest town to legalize retail sales, offers the same quantity for $55.