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Bayfield board delays decision on retail pot
8/8/2013 By: Carole McWilliams
Don’t count out retail pot in Bayfield just yet.
But don’t count it in yet, either.
Town trustees went back and forth Tuesday night on whether to ban marijuana businesses or to go for the sales tax that such a business could generate, if someone chose to open one.
They must decide by Oct. 1 or cede authority to allow these businesses to the state. The process follows from legislation passed in the spring to implement Amendment 64, passed by voters last November to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.
That includes the possibility of marijuana businesses – retail stores, testing facilities, cultivation, and production of marijuana-infused products.
Town Manager Chris La May wanted direction on how to proceed, in order to beat the Oct. 1 deadline.
Much of the board discussion Tuesday evening provided a very muddled direction.
If the town bans retail marijuana businesses, it will get zero from a 15 percent state sales tax (on top of existing sales taxes) that voters will be asked to approve in November, trustee Rachel Davenport said. Town deputies will have to be trained on how to deal with people who might be under the influence of marijuana, whether or not the town allows these businesses, she said.
Trustee Debbi Renfro commented, “The (Amendment 64) vote that people refer to was just to make marijuana legal, not to sell it in Bayfield. That’s a separate issue.”
Precincts 20 and 26 cast majority yes votes for Amendment 64. They encompass the town but also include rural voters.
“You can’t definitively say Bayfield voted yes,” Renfro said. “You can’t make that conclusion from that information.”
Town attorney Dirk Nelson advised that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing on whether to allow or ban marijuana businesses. Trustees could allow retail but not the others. They also could limit the number of businesses to be allowed in each category, and where they can be located.
Mayor Rick Smith was out of town Tuesday. La May said, “The mayor let me know before he left that he prefers to prohibit all four kinds” of pot businesses.
“That would be my inclination,” Renfro said. “I don’t think they fit with the character of Bayfield.”
Trustee Matt Nyberg countered, “I don’t see where the character comes into play. I was looking at the tax revenue. I lean toward allowing with limits.”
Ed Morlan said he will support retail but not the other types of marijuana businesses.
Davenport cited economic development meetings where participants wanted the town to grow. “For that we need to pull in sales tax revenue,” she said, but noted the July 11 and 31 community forums. “I’m not sure this (retail pot) fits the Americana image that people seem to be interested in. But if we don’t allow more retail operations, we don’t get more taxes.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Au said, “I’m somewhat on the fence too. … I don’t want to discourage anyone from opening a business, but if people don’t want it… It looks like we are all over the place” in terms of giving direction to staff.
Giving direction doesn’t bind trustees to an official decision later, Nelson said.
La May speculated that Durango and Cortez are going to continue moratoriums to give time to draft regulations for Amendment 64-related businesses.
“If we don’t do anything by Oct. 1, we are allowing the state to do it for us,” La May said. That’s when the state will start taking applications from existing medical marijuana businesses to expand into recreational marijuana.
Nelson said, “Even if you want to allow the state to do the licensing, you can have provisions in the land use code to limit their location.”
Au wanted more information about additional costs, such as for law enforcement, versus the tax revenue. “If it doesn’t pay for itself, there’s no point doing it,” he said.
La May said that in 2012, medical marijuana dispensaries generated around $150,000 of sales tax in Durango. This was in standard city sales tax, not a tax targeting marijuana.
Renfro argued that at an economic vitality presentation last year at a Colorado Municipal League meeting, the importance of town identity was stressed. “Many people say our identity is a family- friendly town. If it doesn’t fit our character, it’s not an economic plus.”
Trustees finally voted unanimously to have La May draft two ordinances for consideration on Aug. 20. One will prohibit marijuana businesses. One will allow retail stores and designate a local official to be the contact with the state.
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