The city of Durango has done a good job of handling the advent of the legal sale of recreational marijuana. With that, it has recognized the concerns and views of a diverse – and on this subject somewhat divided – community. That the process has taken as long as it has reflects the difficulty of that task.
The city ended its moratorium on accepting applications for pot shops on July 1. It has since received four such applications. Three seek to “co-locate” with existing medical marijuana dispensaries. The fourth has applied to open a shop on the second floor of a Main Avenue location downtown. State and local licensing is expected to take three to four months, which means actual sales of recreational marijuana are expected to begin sometime in the fall.
Different cities have taken different approaches. Denver, Boulder, Telluride and Crested Butte have had legal pot sales for some time now. Bayfield, Ignacio and Montezuma County have taken the opposite approach and banned the sale of marijuana altogether.
All of which is fine. Elected officials in those communities know their constituents’ thinking about such things. And it is instructive there have been few complaints, either in places where selling pot has been approved or where it has been banned.
Durango’s more deliberate approach fits this town as well. City residents and members of the business community had various and varied concerns, often legitimate and occasionally overwrought. The city has listened to them all.
Sometimes those fears could be calmed, sometimes not. The city really cannot, for example, allow marijuana shops but ban them from Main Avenue. And sometimes people simply disagree. There are certainly those who think legalizing marijuana is wrong or foolish.
But the voters of this state approved the sale of recreational marijuana. La Plata County voters backed it by 62 percent, presumably with many of those votes coming from Durango. The city would be wrong to ignore that.
By taking input from all concerned, the city was able to identify the key areas of concern and largely address them. Not everyone is happy, of course, with the issue of allowing pot sales in mixed-use zoning – areas where both residential and commercial use is permitted – probably the most contentious and perhaps still unresolved.
In the end, though, most questions as to where pot can be sold seem to have been worked out or accepted. And the critics have at least been heard.
There are still serious questions about legalized marijuana. Chief among them are the risky potency of edible pot and the danger to children from its often candy-like appearance. But those are issues that must be addressed at the state level.
So, is Durango now to become a mecca for marijuana tourism? Perhaps. The state has already upped its estimate of this year’s total marijuana sales to more than 285,000 pounds, and it is unlikely all that will be sold to Coloradans. Half of Farmington will probably be up here the first weekend, for the novelty if nothing else.
Novelty wears off quickly, however, and simply making marijuana legal is unlikely to make many more people want to use it. Besides, it is still illegal to smoke it in public, most hotels do not allow smoking, and potheads rarely start fights.
People will still come to Durango for all the reasons they always have – it is a beautiful place with great amenities and almost every outdoor activity imaginable. In fact, it is highly likely that in two or three years, we will look back at this and try to remember what all the fuss was about.