The Paonia Town Council on Tuesday began discussions over how to address Amendment 64, the ballot measure passed last November that legalizes recreational marijuana sales.
The council met in a pre-meeting work session Tuesday evening to discuss whether the Town’s action on the amendment should be decided by voters in November.
Recommendations from council-members ran the spectrum of options: Mayor Neal Schwieterman suggested placing some form of question on the November ballot. Councilman Eric Goold agreed, saying the simplest approach would be to ask voters directly whether to allow commercial sales of marijuana in Paonia, especially since the commercial aspect is all the town really has the authority to address.
Goold also said this would be consistent with the town’s approach to the medical marijuana question. Mayor Schwieterman agreed, also citing the strong and varied opinions the issue elicits, as well as the close nature of the previous vote on medical marijuana.
"I don't know what our town wants, it's too close to call, that's why I suggest a vote," Schwieterman said.
Larry Wissbeck, Chair of the Finance Committee, said he wasn’t opposed to putting the issue before a vote, but did say he believes that the council should be able to develop an ordinance that deals with what he calls the “new reality” of marijuana laws in Colorado, without bringing the issue to voters.
Wissbeck related his impression that some of the electorate might not be well-informed enough to make a sensible decision on the issue, and insinuated that a rush to vote against the amendment’s provisions might ensue based on fear.
Town Attorney Jim Briscoe suggested that if the council couldn’t decide immediately whether to regulate or ban commercial marijuana activity, it pass a moratorium on those activities for now.
"I'd recommend that they put a moratorium on it, because otherwise, October 1st, the state law goes into effect, and we don't have either regulations or a banning ordinance in place, than we have no control over what happens in the town."
Briscoe says by that point, the application (or defiance of) Amendment 64’s provisions would be out of the Town’s hands.
"The state could authorize various licenses without even talking to the Town about it."
He concludes that a moratorium would give the Town more time to consider whether to regulate or ban commercial sales.
The debate over how or whether to enact Amendment 64 has spread through cities and towns across the state, with many deciding to implement bans or moratoriums on the measure. Crawford recently enacted a ban on retail pot sales, while the council in neighboring Hotchkiss recently began drafting plans to do the same. Orchard City recently held first readings of an ordinance to ban wholesale and retail marijuana sales as well.
For now, no action has been taken in Paonia, and the council plans to review samples of what a ballot question regarding commercial marijuana activity would look like. These samples, and Paonia’s next steps in addressing Amendment 64, will be reviewed at the council’s next meeting.