Durango City Council upholds marijuana buffer measurements

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 10:36 PM
The Durango City Council voted on Tuesday not to change the city measurements on buffers that prevent marijuana shops from opening near schools and other areas where children gather.

The Durango City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to uphold “as the crow flies” buffers that keep marijuana shops away from schools, playgrounds and residential treatment centers.

The council was considering changing the way buffers were measured to the most direct pedestrian route. The change would have allowed more shops to open downtown and along north Main Avenue, city planner Heather Bailey said.

After hearing from city staff and residents opposed to the change, council decided to leave the “as the crow flies” measurement for buffers in place.

The city requires marijuana businesses to stay 250 feet from parks with public playgrounds, and 1,000 feet from schools, overnight treatment centers and overnight child care centers.

“There’s still opportunity to find a location in this town if you want to,” Councilor Dean Brookie said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Local Licensing Authority approved two marijuana businesses, Animas Herbal Wellness Center and Durango 9 Depot.

City staff did not support the buffer change, in part, because it would have been difficult to administer, increase the chance of error in measuring and impossible to provide a guidance map.

Several residents emotionally defended the city’s straight-line measurement to determine buffers because they do not want to increase the density of marijuana businesses in town. It could send the wrong message to teens about the permissibility of its use and it could change the character of town.

“I do not want to be known as the marijuana mecca of Southwest Colorado,” Karen Rowan said.

Celebrating Healthy Communities Coalition Director Pat Senecal said consistent use of marijuana can lower the IQ of those under 25.

“I want them to feel we all have a common value to keep them safe,” she said.

Councilor Chris Bettin said he was swayed by the argument that more shops send the message that marijuana use is permissible.

“Your testimony was compelling,” he told the crowd.

Early in the meeting, Bettin also asked his fellow councilors whether they wanted to hold public hearings on a marijuana tax increase that could go before voters in November.

He said that he did not feel the city had exhausted other options for tax revenue, that more taxes might unfairly target the marijuana industry and the council should uphold its 2015 decision not to raise marijuana taxes.

However, the other four councilors supported the August public hearings about a potential marijuana tax increase.

The additional tax revenue could help pay for city infrastructure.