Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2016
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2016 The Pueblo Chieftain
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Author: Peter Roper


It was the summer of 2009 when City Council started getting questions and
calls about just when Pueblo was going to start allowing medical marijuana

It was unknown territory for that council, who were just starting to come
to grips with the idea that marijuana could be a legal business, let alone
one that city officials would license and tax, like taverns.

"Once voters legalized it, Colorado had the opportunity to lead on the
issue," recalled Randy Thurston, who was on council at the time. "I really
thought we would move faster than we did."

For the city, what followed were years of moratoriums on pot businesses
while council discussed, delayed and finally drafted licensing

The truth was, council was strongly divided over marijuana. When council
finally adopted zoning rules in 2012 for medical marijuana businesses,
they were so restrictive, there was little interest from pot businesses in
even applying for a city license.

"The personalities on council over those years explains why we moved as
carefully as we did," said President Steve Nawrocki. "But we were never
going to have the kind of open-door policy (that Pueblo County) adopted.
And I'm satisfied we let residents have their say along the way."

Tuesday night, council finally approved regulations for licensing
recreational marijuana stores in the city -- a step so long awaited the
audience gave council an ovation.

Showing it is continuing to adapt to the new industry, council held to
some of its original goals Tuesday while scrapping others in reaction to
testimony from the audience.

The will be eight stores licensed in Pueblo -- four north of the Arkansas
River and four south. Council debated whether that boundary was really
necessary but city staff reminded them that a previous council thought the
two-zone approach would "spread the wealth." Or the problems.

"The idea was to keep the stores from concentrating in one area," said
Kelly Grisham, the city planner who has been drafting marijuana rules
since 2012.

City staff sharply increased the licensing fees, however, from the draft
regulations that council looked at a year ago. For example, the proposed
annual license fee for a retail store had been $5,000. The ordinance
council approved Tuesday night raised that to $15,000 -- a hike that
startled both the audience and council.

Steve Meier, city planning director, said the fee increase was justified
because city staff spends so much time on marijuana applications and
regulations. That view was backed by City Attorney Dan Kogovsek.

"My office is spending at least 20 percent of its time on marijuana
issues," he told council.

Councilwoman Lori Winner was among the three members who voted against the
higher fees, saying the city was just "taking a big gouge" out of the new

District 1 Councilman Bob Schilling summed up council's uncertainty by
noting the city has no experience in setting these fees and that all of
the regulations can be changed as needed.

"Do I think eight stores will be the right number and that these fees
won't ever change? I doubt it," he told his colleagues. "But we have to
start somewhere."

Having heard from several pot businesses already in the city, council
changed direction from a year ago and decided to give those three medical
marijuana centers already in the city an advantage, should they apply for
recreational store licenses as well.

Licenses are going to be awarded based on a point system -- points for
being a county resident, points for having a history of running a
successful business and such. Council agreed Tuesday night that an extra
five points would be awarded any applicant already operating a medical
marijuana center in the city.

And council abandoned an earlier position that applicants need to have
strong financial assets to get a license. The original draft ordinance
called for a minimum of $200,000 in "liquid" assets.

When one pot advocate reminded council that banks aren't working with
marijuana businesses and that the $200,000 could end up being cash in a
duffel bag, council dropped the requirement.

Kogovsek noted the state requires that pot license applicants show a
"reasonable" ability to support their business and council agreed that was

City staff hope to award the eight store licenses in March.
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