Our View: City Council’s marijuana business moratorium unnecessary | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: City Council’s marijuana business moratorium unnecessary

An overwhelming majority of Steamboat Springs residents sent a loud and clear message on Election Day: They support the legalization of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

The Steamboat Springs City Council ought to consider the will of the people — and the timeline prescribed in Amendment 64 — before it enacts a premature and unnecessary emergency moratorium Tuesday banning marijuana establishments within city limits.

It's worth reminding the council and others that 69 percent of Steamboat Springs voters supported Amendment 64, demonstrating a broad base of support that crossed party and ideological lines. Tuesday's vote was even more resounding than similar votes by Steamboat residents to reject a ban of medical marijuana dispensaries last year and to approve allowing medical marijuana in 2000.

Anticipating Amendment 64's passage, police Chief Joel Rae was at the ready with an emergency moratorium to be placed on the council's Tuesday meeting agenda. The moratorium specifically states that no marijuana businesses (excluding existing medical marijuana dispensaries) be allowed to operate within city limits. The moratorium is effective for 90 days.

But the language of Amendment 64 should dispel any sense of urgency to enact the moratorium. The constitutional amendment gives the state until July 1, 2013, to adopt regulations for the implementation of marijuana businesses. The Department of Revenue is to begin accepting and processing applications for marijuana businesses Oct. 1, 2013, the same date the amendment calls for local municipalities like Steamboat to have enacted an ordinance stipulating which city department would be in charge of processing marijuana business applications at the local level in the event the state hasn't finalized its own procedures.

Because marijuana-related businesses like retail stores, grow facilities and product manufacturers cannot legally open under the terms of Amendment 64 until at least Oct. 1, 2013, it is unnecessary for Steamboat to adopt an emergency moratorium. Further, an emergency moratorium expires in 90 days, at which point city officials said they will be ready with a permanent ordinance regulating local pot shops.

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The expiration of the 90-day moratorium will fall months in advance of the deadline for the state to enact its own regulations regarding the framework for marijuana businesses, raising questions of why the city thinks it necessary to have its own regulations in place far in advance of the state. Similarly, given the overwhelming support for Amendment 64, the city must engage its residents on any potential marijuana business restrictions before acting in a manner that could go against the resounding will of the voters.

To be clear, this editorial board advocated against Amendment 64 but not necessarily to the legalization of marijuana. Rather, our chief complaint was that a constitutional amendment wasn't the best way to achieve legalization, particularly given the regulatory complexities and how difficult it is to change constitutional amendments as opposed to state statutes.

While there's reason to think some of the provisions of Amendment 64 — namely the creation of marijuana businesses — will be the subject of a protracted legal battle with the federal government, there is nothing to indicate the city of Steamboat Springs needs to act in a hasty and unnecessary manner. The council should skip the moratorium and instead begin the process of community engagement regarding the quantity and potential location of marijuana businesses.