The Grand Junction City Council is not in a gambling mood when it comes to who they will award licenses to operate retail marijuana stores in the city, opting for a pure merit-based system.

Previously, the city had been working toward choosing candidates via a weighted lottery, according to reporting by The Daily Sentinel’s Sam Klomhaus. The merit-based approach would allow the city to directly select who will receive a license based on criteria that city staff will propose and present to the council in February.

We think this is a better approach than a lottery system, as it takes any chance of awarding a license to a subpar applicant off the table. Of course, as with most regulations, the Devil will be in the details.

What the criteria will be for selecting the licensee now becomes even more important than it was under a weighted lottery and it is critical to get this right the first time. This is a big change for this community, but one that could provide significant benefit if it is done right.

In order for this to benefit this community the most, the merit of an application should place a significant weight on applicants with strong ties to the Grand Junction community with a prohibition on flipping the license unless the new buyer meets this merit-based criteria.

Yes, the city will see a benefit from the sales tax generated by these businesses. That money will stay in the community, but a truly locally owned business can give back to the community orders of magnitude more than what it gives in sales tax.

One obvious place to start is giving preference to the local owners of medical marijuana shops in Grand Junction that were shut down by voters. Our votes took their businesses away and we should give them priority when issuing new licenses.

The argument against this merit-based approach is that it might benefit people already in the industry — the big dogs in Denver.

“One of the things council may want to consider is who you have heard from,” City Attorney John Shaver said at the council’s workshop on Monday. “You have heard from the industry, and of course the industry is going to recommend merit, because the industry is most likely to demonstrate merit.”

If you make the merit-based approach favor local applicants this issue is less concerning. A Front Range-based company may have plenty of merit for its strong financial backing and experience in the industry, but they aren’t local.

Furthermore, who is to say industry specific experience should weigh that much more than experience owning a liquor store or grocery store? Those businesses are retail stores just like a marijuana store. While they aren’t regulated as heavily, they have regulations they have to meet.

We’re happy the council has chosen this direction for marijuana regulations, but we need to see it strongly favor local applicants. This is our chance to ensure this benefits Grand Junction the most by weeding out the big players in Denver.