County studies 
whether to ban 
marijuana shops

In the wake of the recent passage of Colorado Amendment 64, Mesa County seems set on a path to ban outright marijuana retail stores and facilities in unincorporated parts of the county.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who is the lone current commissioner set to serve next year’s term, as Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland are term-limited at the end of this year, said he foresees the county pursuing a ban of marijuana retail facilities sometime soon.

Acquafresca said he’s had a number of conversations on the subject, specifically with staff of the local district attorney’s office, since the amendment’s passage earlier this month. The amendment essentially legalized smaller amounts of marijuana for recreational use and paved the way for state-regulated retail pot shops.

Specific language in the amendment allows for “local governments to regulate or prohibit such facilities.”

Mesa County, whose voters passed a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in 2010, 50 percent to 47 percent, appears ready to take the “prohibit” route, via county ordinance.

Acquafresca said he recognizes that Coloradans now have limited rights to use and grow marijuana, but the interpretation by the district attorney’s office says the amendment is clear in allowing municipal governments to be proactive.

“There’s really no need for an expensive vote” put to the people, Acquafresca said.

The Board of County Commissioners will have two new members in January; Republicans John Justman and Rose Pugliese will join Acquafresca on the three-member board. The new board is expected to take up the proposed ordinance banning retail marijuana operations across unincorporated parts of the county.

Justman said he is likely to side with Acquafresca and support the idea of a ban.

“I’m not really interested in having pot shops in Mesa County,” Justman said.

Pugliese said she is “all for a prohibition” and that she’s on board with pursuing an ordinance that would make that a reality in Mesa County.

“The people of Mesa County have spoken, again and again, on the pot issue. They don’t want pot shops on every corner,” she said, noting the exception of the town of Palisade, who decided to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in a 2011 ballot measure.

One is currently operating there.

Local governments across the state are still sorting through their options since the amendment’s passage.

For many, 2009 is still fresh in their memory, when medical marijuana dispensaries started popping up in Colorado communities with little to no regulatory framework in place to manage them,

“It’s a little different this time around,” said Kevin Bommer, deputy director with the Colorado Municipal League, an organization that represents 99 percent of the municipal population in the state.

Bommer said communities aren’t being compelled to rush headlong into creating local regulatory legislation or bans via ordinance.

The amendment sets July 1, 2013, as a deadline for the state to have a regulatory structure in place, and licenses for retail marijuana applications can’t be applied for until Oct. 1, 2013.

“What we’ve advised our folks is, because of those timelines, you don’t have to rush and pass a moratorium. No one’s going to legally open up a business here in the next few months,” Bommer said.


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