Pubdate: Thu, 08 Oct 2015
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Column: Weed Between the Lines
Copyright: 2015 Boulder Weekly
Author: Leland Rucker


Boulder City Council is considering broad changes to its marijuana 
rules and regulations. The first reading was Sept. 30, with a second 
reading scheduled for later this month or early November. And this 
time around, it appears that Council wants to help rather than hinder 
cannabis businesses.

The reconsideration began at the urging of Councilman Macon Cowles, 
who listed at least 40 "stress points" for cannabis businesses in a 
Hotline memo last month. He asked city staff to scrap Boulder's 
current rules, conform to state regulations for operations and 
compliance and limit the City's involvement to processing of 
applications and inspections. He also asked staff to provide a 
schedule of fines and an administrative review process for challenges 
to fines and citations. The reasoning is that Boulder voted 
overwhelmingly for legal cannabis, and though the City took a hard 
approach at the outset, it needs to let these mom-and-pop businesses 
succeed by making regulations strict, clearly understood and fair.

Council members have been hearing from businesses and visiting some 
of the 77 cannabis facilities in town in recent months. Many owners 
have outlined difficulties following city and state laws when they 
conflict and who feel that some of the City rules seem capricious and 
arbitrary and put them at a business disadvantage. Cowles' memo 
pointed out that Boulder is the only place in the state with rules 
that, for instance, don't allow newspaper or magazine coupons from 
city businesses, require a physical separation between recreational 
and medical businesses in the same location and includes code 
language that indicates "zero tolerance" for offenses.

There was some initial pushback from staff, which replied in a memo 
that all current local rules are based on Council direction and 
argued that the extra measures have prevented or limited crime or 
otherwise made it safer for citizens.

Everybody remembered the circumstances under which the original rules 
were written. Amendment 64 dictated specific timelines, and Council 
took up the issue as the City and County were reeling from the 
aftermath of the September floods. Cannabis had been illegal for so 
long that there was still much suspicion about what legalization might bring.

Back then, I found the city attorney's office inflexible and 
combative toward Council's direction, but I didn't see evidence of 
that this time. Both City Attorney Tom Carr and assistant Kathy 
Haddock seemed willing to look at regulation in a different light 
after two years. Most businesses work hard to stay compliant, Carr 
said. His office was afraid to be lenient at first - hence the "no 
tolerance" language - and he suggested that because he always looks 
at things from a regulatory and legal viewpoint, he might not be the 
best person to lead the effort for changes.

Council members asked many questions, about "zero tolerance," using 
administrative hearings rather than the courts to contest fines, and 
staff 's interpretation of merchandising, among other things. And 
during the public hearing, many operators provided more specific 
evidence of the problems they were having following two sets of 
regulations. It was obvious Council members were striving to 
understand the particulars of the regulations, and quite frankly, 
there was probably way too much there to adequately deal with in a 
long meeting.

In the end, some of the things that Cowles asked for were addressed 
by staff and will be inserted into the second reading language. But 
when Carr suggested a citizen's committee be formed to study some of 
the others, everyone leapt at the opportunity. It was 10:30 p.m. 
before Council voted unanimously for the changes to the second reading.

It was really encouraging to see that both Council and staff are 
willing to take a second look at these regulations, change important 
ones like ending the grandfather clause to allow current businesses 
more time to convert from medical to recreational, striking the "zero 
tolerance" language and including the industry in further 
negotiations. And while I know Council is proud of its deliberative 
process, it's disappointing that for many of the issues raised, it 
will be perhaps six months or more, and perhaps a new Council seated, 
before they are resolved.

Cowles gave Council a choice between a relatively easy way out and a 
more difficult one, and by punting many industry concerns to a focus 
group, Council took the latter. Not melding city and state code at 
this point means these kinds of issues will continue to come before 
and haunt Council, and the City will continue, in my humble opinion, 
to waste time and resources on something better left to more capable hands.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado 
cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom