Town Council to vote on marijuana sale ban

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    Staff Writer

    The Pagosa Springs Town Council held a work session last week to discuss with the town’s attorney the possibility of establishing regulations in preparation for issuing licenses to those interested in operating marijuana businesses in the town, but, by the end of the meeting, the tide had shifted and town staff was directed to bring an ordinance to the next regular meeting that would establish a permanent ban.

    “I have made my feelings known before,” council member Don Volger said, “thinking that it wouldn’t be too detrimental to allow a few recreational or retail marijuana facilities within the town. I have had a lot of time to think about that, and we have had a lot of information come in on both sides. The bottom line is, no matter what decision this council makes, approximately half the people are going to support it and half the people are not.”

    Volger went on to describe his law enforcement background. He also described a friend who struggled with serious marijuana addiction problems. While he does support giving access to those people who need marijuana for medical reasons and he does support the decriminalization of marijuana as far as its possession and use, he has changed his mind on allowing marijuana businesses to operate within the town’s limits.

    “At this point in time,” Volger concluded, “even though I have stated before that I don’t see a problem with allowing one or two retail marijuana facilities in town, I’m sorry. When it comes right down to it, I think I am going to have to disappoint those who want to start a business here. Right now, I am going to say I support a prohibition.”

    Council member Tracy Bunning explained his belief that those who voted for Amendment 64 — in Archuleta County 54 percent of the electorate said “Yes,” while 46 percent said “No” — only voted to decriminalize possession, and didn’t necessarily want to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their community.

    “The fact that there were five or six different provisions to that ‘Yes’ vote made me think the opposite of what you thought,” council member David Schanzenbaker argued. “In order for someone to say ‘Yes’ to that ballot issue, they had to agree with all of those things.

    “As far as decriminalization, it is legal to possess it right now, but if you don’t allow access for people to acquire it by a legal transaction, then you’re not decriminalizing it. How does a person who wants to possess it get it, if you don’t allow them to buy it? The people just voted in November to allow this, so that is the baseline I’m starting from. I want to hear a good reason for prohibition. The easy way out is to say, ‘They can buy it somewhere else.’”

    While council member Clint Alley had to leave the work session early, as a parting thought he advocated keeping an open mind and continuing to do research on both options, not just prohibition.

    “I have stated my position before,” Mayor Ross Aragon said. “I am for prohibition. One of the reasons is because I support law enforcement and the chief (Pagosa Springs Police Chief William Rockensock) is against it. I don’t know how in the world I could not support my chief.”

    Council member Kathie Lattin argued for taking a wait-and-see approach, letting other communities allow retail operations and checking if they experience any problems in the future. Maybe at a later date the town could reexamine the issue.

    “I think we can see where we are as far as the council is concerned,” Bunning added. “I would be interested in continuing the moratorium, perhaps until the end of December 2014, for a couple of reasons. I think it makes good sense just to allow some of this stuff to be finalized at the state level so we can look at it.

    “Number two, we need time to get feedback from the constituents of the town of Pagosa Springs. I’m going to suggest people let us know what their thoughts are. By extending the moratorium to that point, I imagine we could get it on the ballot in November of 2014 and, if it passes, we would still have time to develop acceptable local regulations.”

    Town attorney Bob Cole clarified that if the council allowed the issue to go to the voters, it would have to be at the general election in November of 2014, not at the town’s municipal election in April, and that it wouldn’t be possible to develop proper regulations until February 2015, if the voters insisted on allowing marijuana businesses to operate.

    While this was a work session and no formal decisions were allowed, town manager David Mitchem promised to put the item on the agenda for the Sept. 3 regular town council meeting.

    “Given the consensus of the council, town staff can prepare an appropriate document that will give the council several options: one, a permanent prohibition; two, a prohibition to a date certain; or three, a prohibition to a date certain plus an election.”

    “I am not opposed to going to a vote of the people and letting them decide,” Volger said. “Demographics are changing. I recognize that, and we’re not going to be able to stem the tide. I recognize that as well. Maybe we are just delaying it for a while.”

    “I just have to say this,” council member Darrel Cotton interjected. “I am opposed to taking it to the voters. The voters elected us to make the decisions. If we don’t have the cajones to step up and make the decisions — if we’re going to make them make the decisions — then all we need is someone to count the votes every time something comes up. If they don’t like what we do, then they will un-elect us.”

    During the two-hour meeting, each member of the council expressed the idea that they must vote their conscience, and if the citizens didn’t approve of the decisions being made, they could always vote to replace the council members.

    ed.fincher@pagosasun.com