City, county pot rules

Today, the city of Durango and La Plata County will invite public input on their respective marijuana-related rules. These regulations have been more than a year in the making, triggered when voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012, legalizing the sale and use of marijuana among those older than age 21 for recreational purposes. Both entities’ rule-making processes have been thorough and inclusive, and those who are concerned about how retail marijuana sales will be implemented, or proposed changes to medical marijuana rules, should attend and weigh in on the matter.

For their part, city councilors and county commissioners have done good work in drafting the respective ordinances that will govern marijuana’s presence in the city and county. By and large, the rules are fair. As a whole, they are consistent with state requirements. There are some suggestions of arbitrariness, though. The city, for example, is proposing a ban on retail marijuana stores in the Central Business District, despite what appears to be even numbers supporting and opposing their presence downtown – let alone any meaningful data on what the stores’ impact might have on Durango’s image or any justifiable reason for relegating the outlets to only certain areas within city limits. The City Council should reconsider that ban when finalizing the ordinance.

The county, too, has some problematic ideas in its proposed licensing requirements for retail, cultivation, manufacturing or storage facilities. Under draft rules that will be considered at today’s hearing, the county’s three-person licensing board would be able to consider a wide range of factors when issuing a license, including whether the applicant has good moral character. The licensing board can use a number of metrics by which to determine an applicant’s character, including whether there are inconsistencies on his application, whether he has been involved in civil lawsuits that “demonstrate a pattern of fraud and/or dishonesty or a lack of respect for legal obligations,” the number of misdemeanor convictions he has had and whether he has had a business license denied, revoked or suspended – among a few other data points. While there is an argument to be made that all business licensees should have be able to clear a moral-character test before entering the public trust, it is somewhat perplexing that a higher standard should apply to those seeking to open a marijuana-related business. The morality on the subject is no longer particularly relevant in terms of legislation, and the regulation that follows should not be preachy. The moral-character test treads a bit closely to that line.

The county will hold its hearing this morning after a 10 a.m. planning meeting, and the city’s hearing will be part of its 6:30 p.m. meeting. These are crucial public-participation opportunities.

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