The city of Durango is taking the task of how to regulate recreational marijuana businesses both slowly and seriously, and it is right to. During the process, the City Council is seeking input from its constituents on whether and where to locate the facilities, and has received it in spades. To the council’s great credit, it is conscientiously considering and incorporating that feedback into the rules it will adopt.
It is not particularly easy work, shaping policy that carries with it somewhat of a social stigma, regardless of the fact that selling marijuana to the casual user – provided he or she is older than 21 – is a perfectly legal business – provided it take place in facilities that follow state and local rules. That stigma influences suggestions that allowing marijuana sales in the Central Business District could be problematic for Durango’s image, never mind the fact that downtown is awash in booze-slinging bars that fail to raise similar concerns.
The City Council was initially sympathetic to those arguments, but has since backed away. In the latest iteration of the draft ordinance – (the council will vote June 3) – there can be up to one recreational dispensary per block on Main Avenue between Fifth and 14th streets – as well as on East Second Avenue downtown – provided all of the setback requirements governing proximity to schools, parks and drug treatment facilities are met. That would limit the options for locating a dispensary somewhat, but it is a far cry from council’s initial stance that perhaps Bodo Industrial Park or North Main Avenue would be better locations for the marijuana industry. It was not a very compelling position for anyone other than downtown merchants uninterested in welcoming marijuana retailers into their midst. The council was right to look more broadly in crafting its rules.
The city is nesting its rules within the parameters set by the state. Those guidelines allow municipalities to be more restrictive if they choose – even to the point of disallowing marijuana sales altogether. That allows cities and counties to craft rules appropriate for their communities. While the state allows for recreational marijuana sales between 8 a.m. and midnight, localities can modify those hours if they choose. Durango’s draft ordinance establishes an 8 a.m.–8 p.m. window. That is appropriate; very few retail businesses are open much later into the evening, and marijuana social clubs – where the substance could be consumed, a la drinking establishments – are expressly prohibited in the city.
The city has conducted a thorough process in crafting and vetting its retail marijuana ordinance and should be commended for being responsive to input while remaining in line with state rules as well as embracing the new marijuana frontier. It is an opportunity for the city and entrepreneurs, but one to be addressed seriously and realistically. The City Council has done so thus far.