Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

12 Mar 2014

Downtown coffee shop owner taken aback by City’s desire to exclude pot shops from Main

Posted by Adam Howell

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A man that owns a coffee shop on Main Avenue in Durango interrupted a City Council study session to say that he was taken aback by the their insinuation that most business owners in the Central Business District wanted to exclude any pot shops from opening near them.

This map shows how the City's proposed buffers of 1000 ft. around schools, parks, daycare facilities and counseling centers would totally preclude any new pot shops from opening up in Durango's Central Business District.

This map shows how the City’s proposed buffers of 1000 ft. around schools, parks, daycare facilities and counseling centers would totally preclude any new pot shops from opening up in Durango’s Central Business District.

Tim Wheeler, owner of Durango Coffee Company, was sitting in the public seating area while City Councilor Christina Rinderle was justifying how the Council might exclude pot shops from the Central Business District in the upcoming regulations that are slated to be written by the end of June.

Wheeler spoke out.

“I’m a business owner and I’m taken aback by some of that,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler was immediately chided by City Mayor Dick White who reminded him that the study session was not open to comments from the public.

At Tuesday’s study session that was meant to exclude any public testimony, Councilor Rinderle was talking with Council and staff about how business owners from the Central Business District at a ‘packed’ March 2012 Liquor Licensing Authority meeting had voiced opposition to Rocky Mountain High’s application to relocate their dispensary to a south Main Avenue location.

Rocky Mountain High was forced to move from their location at the north end of town after being sent a letter by a member of the U.S. Justice Department for being too close to Animas High School, which is now on US Highway 160 west of town.

In sharp contrast, City Manager Ron Leblanc and the Liquor Licensing Authority approved a license for Discount Liquors on Florida Rd, right next to Family Center daycare facility, on July 19, 2011. This, despite strong objections from numerous parents living at the adjacent Island Cove Trailer Park and objections from the Family Center’s Program Director Rachel Cameron, whose statements were acknowledged by the City.

At Tuesday’s study session, the Council discussed prohibiting any pot shops from obtaining licenses to operate within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, daycare facilities or counseling centers based on rules the City Attorney David Smith said that he thinks the Colorado State Justice Department has already laid out.

A ban exists on marijuana retailers from operating within 1,000 feet of parks, daycare facilities and counseling centers, according to Smith and Councilor Rinderle, although this blogger continues to unsuccessfully confirm this.

As for now, all that this blogger could confirm was a 1,000 foot buffer between pot shops and playgrounds, defined as having three or more separate apparatus intended for the recreation of children, as outlined in Section 860 of the Controlled Substances Act.

At the same time, City Councilors also agreed that they would not impose a spacing buffer between separate pot shops, either medical or non medical.

Talks of spacing restrictions led into a discussion on residential growing operations, whereupon Councilors and staff agreed that no more than 6 plants should be allowed per residential dwelling unit, due to safety reasons.

This transitioned to a debate on the merits of prohibiting open and public consumption of marijuana on private property within public view.

“I would say apply the same rules as alcohol,” said City Councilor Keith Brant.

Durango Police Chief Jim Spratlen said it was different.

“Alcohol doesn’t float in the air and cause intoxication for a 3-year old or a 5-year old or an 8-year old that’s standing on the other side of the property,” said Spratlen. “That’s my concern.”

City Councilor Sweetie Marbury said that forcing people to smoke pot inside buildings on private property would mean that any kids inside could be exposed to even greater levels of smoke.

City Manager Ron LeBlanc said that the Chief’s concern about children is everyone’s concern, but said people smoking in their front yards is not a child safety issue.

“But do we want to be sending cops out when someone drives by and sees someone smoking a joint? Is that really a good use of police? Can those police be used better in maybe an education program about the concerns of abuse–whether it’s alcohol, tobacco or marijuana,” said LeBlanc.

All of these agreements have not yet been drafted into an ordinance, although the City’s new attorney, Dirk Nelson is expected to draft the regulations after he starts in the new position on March 15, 2014. Nelson will replace the existing City Attorney David Smith.

The City’s new regulations on retail marijuana will be subject to a public hearing and vote by the City Council. After that, they could be subject to subject to a ballot initiative challenging whatever decisions that the public disagrees with.

After all, if it wasn’t for ballot initiatives, we wouldn’t have most of the medical or retail marijuana laws where they currently exist throughout the country.

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