No new pot shops: Steamboat City Council indefinitely postpones ordinance to allow more dispensaries
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — An ordinance that would have allowed more marijuana dispensaries in the city died a slow death during the Steamboat Springs City Council meeting Monday .
After a maelstrom of motions that failed to get a passing majority, members postponed indefinitely the ordinance, which would have increased the number of marijuana business licenses from the current three-store limit.
The decision comes after months of long, sometimes heated debate, among council members on whether to loosen the city’s marijuana regulations.
During its May 21 meeting, City Council narrowly approved the first reading of the ordinance on a 4-3 vote. As written, it would have increased the total number of dispensaries to six, a three-store increase.
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Supporters saw the ordinance as a way to open up the local market and allow for more competition among dispensaries. Opponents argued the majority of their constituents do not want more marijuana shops around town and cautioned against changing the status quo.
In previous meetings, City Council approved other ordinances that set the stage for more marijuana licenses, such as changing zoning requirements to allow pot shops in more areas around town. Those take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, but it is unclear what effect they will have without additional licenses.
The new zoning requirements would allow the three existing dispensaries to move to a new location, but they would have to close down their existing storefronts to adhere to the three-license limit.
Tuesday’s discussion on expanding marijuana licenses began with public comment, which underscored the differing opinions residents have on the issue.
Representatives from two of the existing pot shops, Golden Leaf and Billo, spoke against the ordinance.
Emily Kelley, an attorney representing the Golden Leaf dispensary, said keeping the status quo would oversaturate the market, which she argues does not have the demand to match a spike in supply.
“By adding additional licenses, you’re not making the pie any bigger,” she said. “You‘re taking more cuts of that pie and making each individual cut smaller by adding additional licenses.”
But as Mark Wellstone, owner of the Blue Heron dispensary in Oak Creek, pointed out, Steamboat’s dispensary owners have a biased opinion when it comes to bringing in more competition.
“Obviously, it makes sense to the current licensees that there should be no new licensees to do businesses in town,” he said.
Among City Council, concern over the true desires of constituents was the main barrier to garnering enough votes to approve the ordinance.
Council member Robin Crossan has argued against the increase in dispensaries during previous meetings
“The people saying, ‘Don’t do anything,’ I believe far outweighs those saying, ‘We want more,’” she said.
But council member Sonja Macys said the argument is not necessarily about whether or not people want more dispensaries.
“We are making a choice of status quo, or should we allow these business to have a competitive market,” she said.
“But your job is also to represent your constituents, like Robin is saying,” council member Heather Sloop countered. “And your constituents are saying, ‘There is not a need.'”
Members tried to present several motions to their colleagues in an effort to reach a compromise but to no avail.
President Jason Lacy called the hailstorm of failed propositions a “motion happy hour.”
Then a sudden silence fell over the room. Seconds passed without a word, a dramatic change from the banter of the previous 30 minutes.
“I think we’ve tried every combination,” council member Kathi Meyer finally said.
“I don’t know what else to do,” said council member Scott Ford.
Without a clear solution, City Council reverted to an indefinite postponement of the marijuana license ordinance.
As Ford said of the ordinance’s fate, “It’s in purgatory.”
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