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Marijuana timeout extended

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The City Council on Tuesday extended a current nine-month moratorium on new marijuana business licenses for another six months through the end of 2013. The council wanted to allow time for the smoke to clear from the haze of pending pot legislation in Denver.

The Legislature is scheduled to wrap up its session today, but state regulations on new retail marijuana businesses as permitted under Amendment 64 are not expected to be ready until July.

“We’re just trying to see what’s happening on the state level so we don’t spend a lot of time and energy creating something that may or may not mesh with state law,” said Councilor Christina Rinderle.

City Attorney David Smith said legislators in Denver still are debating the appropriate level of taxation for recreational marijuana.

Another bill linked to drunken-driving enforcement, Smith said, would allow authorities to determine “if a person has five or more nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, then they are, in fact, stoned.”

Under the timeline of Amendment 64, cities can begin accepting applications for retail recreational marijuana business licenses in October and allow the new business licenses to then go into effect in January 2014, said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, which worked for the passage of Amendment 64.

The Durango City Council still could choose to not allow retail recreational marijuana business licenses, but the council then could be overridden by a local ballot initiative. Amendment 64, which legalized possession of an ounce of marijuana, passed in La Plata County by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent last November.

In a phone interview, Vicente said Durango’s go-slow approach is pretty typical.

“I think a lot of communities are waiting to see what the Legislature is going to do,” he said. “They’re going into this holding pattern. I think they’re trying to prevent other (marijuana) businesses from opening up randomly. I do know there is strong support for legalization in La Plata and Durango. My assumption is that the City Council is going to allow these stores. They just want to do it on their own time frame.”

Another motivation for the moratorium is that Amendment 64 gives existing or current medical-marijuana businesses an advantage or a leg up in applying for the new business licenses to sell marijuana for recreation.

Now that recreational marijuana has become legal, Vicente said he does not anticipate that medical marijuana businesses will fade away because medical marijuana will be taxed at a much lower rate than recreational marijuana.

In regulating medical-marijuana dispensaries, the city also is considering new regulations to clarify rules for where they can operate, their appropriate distance from schools, whether caregivers can cultivate plants within city limits and regulations on the production of marijuana-infused products.

In other business:

City Manager Ron LeBlanc said the city should be finished with the reconstruction of the Main Avenue sidewalk in downtown Durango by June 1.

The city was awarded a $150,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to pay for a portion of the $800,000 cost to buy backup generators for its sewer lift stations.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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