In a narrow 2010 vote, Paonia residents approved a measure to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. This year, the question is whether to allow commercial marijuana sales in town. But after a decision by the Paonia Town Council yesterday evening (Tuesday July 9), that issue won't be on a ballot this year.
The Paonia Town Council on Tuesday evening voted to approve a "No Action" plan regarding Amendment 64, the Colorado constitutional measure that legalizes commercial marijuana activity in the state.
The town's decision to not explicitly act on the amendment, as well as the 60-pages of still-developing rules regulating commercial marijuana in the state, means commercial activity will for now be allowed to proceed according to state regulations.
Many towns and municipalities across the state have in recent weeks decided to either ban, regulate or place a moratorium on commercial pot activity, all courses of action that the town still has time to decide on. But for now, the council's ruling means marijuana entrepreneurs can begin the process of applying for state licenses to sell within town limits.
The council had in previous weeks favored the idea of putting the issue before a ballot during November's special election. However, Town Attorney Jim Briscoe informed the council that such a move isn't an option. The state's legal guidelines for Amendment 64 say such a ballot measure could only be voted on during even-numbered years. That means the earliest the Amendment 64 issue could be put to Paonia residents is November of 2014.
Mayor Neal Schwieterman said the town's decision means it will wait for more guidelines and rules to be developed.
"We're not going to do anything now, and then as there are requirements for the town we will fulfill those requirements, absolutely," Schwieterman said. "As the rules become more apparent for the state, we could always institute a moratorium should we feel that's prudent."
He says in the meantime, the council will be open for public input on how the town should proceed, and will consider the issues raised during the medical marijuana debate of previous years.
"The last election [over medical marijuana dispensaries] was so tight that I would hate to do anything without input of the citizen, because when something's that tight I hate to try to guess," Schwieterman said.
Jere Lowe, an outspoken proponent of legalization who's also done legal counseling to push the issue, says he thinks the debate is by now a moot point, and that the council should act accordingly. Lowe says Paonia residents voted in favor of Amendment 64 at the state level, which should be enough to justify moving forward with regulation.
"We don't need to argue over it and spend money on an election in a year," says Lowe. "In a year, we'll have even a larger majority; that's the way it's going."
Resident Bob Pennetta echoed that feeling, saying Paonia voters' decision on Amendment 64 should convince the council to move ahead with regulation. But Schwieterman says the Amendment and commercial activity are separate issues.
"An amendment to pass recreational use is different than commercial establishment selling, that's a whole different animal," said Schwieterman.
One Paonia resident, who asked to remain anonymous, read a letter to the council stating a moratorium is the best way to go. Though not necessarily against the idea of legal pot in town, the resident said it's an issue that needs more public information, more public debate, and more consideration of commercial marijuana's potential effects on the local economy. That resident stated that legal marijuana is "a game changer."
Schwieterman says the council will take careful steps with the issue going forward.
"As we're presented with information we'll keep on top of it, do the best we can and move forward, and follow all the rules we're given," he said. "At some point in time we have to do a final decision on yes-no, and we just want to do that, certainly, with more information."
He also says he doesn't expect a rush of marijuana businesses to town.
"You know, if I were a business owner, a business plan for a business that might be outlawed by a local entity isn't much of a business plan," Schwieterman said.
Before any commercial activity can truly begin in Paonia, the town will have to form a regulator agency, which will then have to sign off on any retail marijuana licenses granted by the state.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the state's regulations on statutory towns (such as Paonia) disallow the Amendment 64 issue to come before a vote this year. It is actually the amendment itself that states any ballot initiatives on the matter must appear during an even-numbered year.