By Lisa Young
A draft marijuana ordinance came before Paonia town council members last Tuesday evening. Council members worked through the red-lined document with recommendations from a designated working group.
After a lengthy debate, trustees agreed to limit the number of stores to one shop per block to include both sides of the street within the commercial zoned areas.
Trustee Dave Knutson took the lead by voicing his concern that not limiting the number of shops in the small community could create a “wild west” atmosphere.
“I’m concerned about is this ‘wild west’ thing where there’s all this activity... I don’t see why we wouldn’t just set it at three and let people have viable businesses rather than scrambling. There’s too many people trying to eek out a living here,” Knutson said.
Trustee Tamie Meck voiced concerns about how the town should treat medical and retail shops and how many of each should be allowed.
“It’s something we need to think about. We’re dealing with two different types of stores here so let’s not forget that,” she said.
Town Administrator Corinne Ferguson said the state recently changed how they handle the issue by allowing businesses to open “a dual shop.” In addition, she said the town will need to specify that not all of the licenses could go to retail only shops.
Trustee Michelle Pattison floated the idea that the limitation be linked to the population to allow for more stores as the community grows.
Mayor Mary Bachran stated that she was in favor of letting the market determine the number of stores and not impose a limit.
Trustee Bill Bear referred to the failures of the hemp business that took farm land out of “normal agricultural” and reduced the number of producers.
“In the town, you take a bunch of stores and buy out the businesses that are there, which they’ll have to do, and then they don’t make it, we’re going to be left with empty storefronts,” he said.
Trustees settled on one retail and/or medicinal marijuana store per block to include both sides of the street. The shops will only reside within the six blocks that fall under the town’s C2 and C2 zoning districts.
It was determined to allow marijuana licenses to be handled much the same way as liquor licenses.
“You’re going to make the bulk of your money for the town off of fees and a lot of that will be people trying to get a license,” Lowe told the board.
He recommended opening the licenses to “whoever wants to apply.” Lowe told the board that in his opinion at maximum only one or two stores would probably survive in the small community.
Ferguson agreed saying, “There is no limitation on the amount of liquor licenses that can be applied for and come before the board and so the overall consensus of the majority was to not list a limitation within the ordinance.”
Marijuana stores, limited to C1 and C2 zoned areas of the town, will be required to follow current regulations including proper signage.
“I did have this ordinance reviewed by the marijuana enforcement division in Grand Junction who had no concerns and confirmed that all the language in here regarding the state requirements for signage and everything is the most current up-to-date and required under a marijuana enforcement rule,” Ferguson told the board.
Any re-zoning requests would have to go before the planning commission for a variance request with review. Up zoning into the appropriate commercial zone is possible, according to the town attorney. If approved they would have to apply for a license. The request would be reviewed by the town and include a public hearing.
Bear presented a question on the inclusion in the definitions on “retail marijuana establishments.” He voiced concerned that the language could extend the meaning to include manufacturing or growing.
Bo Nerlin, town attorney, said the language in the ordinance is consistent with the language that is used in the code and at the state level.
There was at least one citizen who complained that the public was not given enough information prior to the meeting or adequate time during the meeting to register concerns.
The Paonia marijuana working group consisted of Corinne Ferguson, town administrator, Neil Ferguson, chief of police and for members of the public Jere Lowe, Dale Cecil, Tom Jacobs and Tom Scudder.
The reworked marijuana ordinance will come before the board for further review at the next town meeting scheduled March 9 at 6:00 p.m. If the board is satisfied with the product, the ordinance could pass at the March meeting.