Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jun 2013
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Ana Campoy


Pot Is Legal, but Some Towns Won't Partake Though Colorado and
Washington Allow Recreational Marijuana, Many Municipalities Are
Seeking to Bar Businesses Selling It

Like Coloradans as a whole, voters in Colorado Springs voted to
legalize recreational pot last fall. Nonetheless, their city leaders
held a packed public meeting Thursday to seek opinions on whether
local businesses should be able to sell it.

Colorado Springs, the state's second-largest city with roughly 426,000
residents, is one of numerous municipalities in Colorado that are
considering opting out of part of the state's new marijuana law. The
legislation allows anyone 21 and older to possess and grow pot in
small amounts but also gives local authorities the right to bar pot
plantations and stores.

More than two dozen cities and towns, including Calhan and Woodland
Park near Colorado Springs, have already prohibited marijuana retail
stores, according to the Colorado Municipal League, a lobbying group
for the state's cities. Others, like Aurora outside of Denver, decided
to postpone a decision on whether to allow sales. In Denver, leaders
want to allow pot sales, but have said they want to push back the
starting date for new businesses other than medical-pot outlets.

The opt-out clause included in the Colorado pot law doesn't exist in
Washington, which also legalized recreational pot last November. But
local officials there have some control over rules such as licensing
and zoning, and some are using that authority to keep pot shops at

Richland, a city of roughly 49,000 people in southeastern Washington,
passed an ordinance that requires marijuana stores to comply with
federal laws, for example, which is impossible because of pot's
continued federal status as an illegal substance.

Local power to determine how the marijuana trade operates, or whether
it exists at all, will likely be included in measures that pot
advocates attempt to pass in other states as they seek to broaden pot

Part of the reason some municipalities in Washington and Colorado have
been reluctant to allow pot sales, experts say, is uncertainty over
how those states will handle the new marijuana market. Both are still
setting up regulatory systems for recreational pot.

In Washington, where rules won't be finalized until August, applicants
for pot licenses have a 30-day window in September to file paperwork
that is supposed to include where they plan to set up shop. That means
jurisdictions would have only about a month to study the state's rules
and come up with their own in time for locals to apply for licenses.

"It's going to be a little bit bumpy as we roll out this new legalized
system," said Brian Smith, a spokesman at the Washington State Liquor
Control Board, which is now tasked with also regulating marijuana.

In Colorado, a pending issue is taxation of pot, which will be used to
fund the state marijuana enforcement agency. Voters in November are
set to vote on a 25% tax rate proposed by lawmakers. Until then, local
officials won't know what kind of resources state officials will have
to oversee marijuana businesses.

The discussion in Colorado Springs is complicated by local politics.
The city at the base of the Rocky Mountains is home to large
socially-conservative groups that are against marijuana use, but is
also a stronghold for libertarians, who view pot smoking as a personal
freedom government shouldn't interfere with.

In El Paso County, where Colorado Springs is located, voters passed
the marijuana amendment by only 10 votes, 141,696 to 141,686. The
Colorado Springs City Council is expected to take a vote on pot stores
next month.

Keith King, the council's president, said he favors a moratorium, but
added that the council is evenly divided between that option, a ban
and allowing sales.

Mayor Steve Bach, who doesn't have a vote, wants a full ban. He and
others in the business community said allowing sales amounts to
endorsing marijuana use, which would alienate military facilities and
religious nonprofits that make up a large portion of the local economy.

"We have to give a message to our employers that we are not going to
promote a drug that is federally illegal," Mr. Bach said.

But others said prohibiting sales would deny expansion opportunities
to the 50 or so medical-pot dispensaries in the city, which would have
the first shot at recreational licenses, and go against the town's
traditional hands-off approach to government. "This is more than just
about pot," said Liz Oldach, who chairs the local chapter of the
Libertarian Party of Colorado. "It's about freedom."

The prospect of a ban in one of the state's biggest cities isn't
discouraging the activists that pushed for legalization. "Marijuana
will be legal for adults...regardless of whether businesses are
allowed in their localities," said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the
Marijuana Policy Project.

Write to Ana Campoy at A version of this article appeared June 28, 2013, on page A3 in the
U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Pot Is
Legal, but Some Towns Won't Partake.
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