Retail pot idea edging forward

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The possibility remains that Littleton will become an area island for retail pot sales, though by only one unofficial vote.

“We’re surrounded by communities that have said no,” said Councilor Bruce Beckman during Littleton City Council’s Aug. 27 study session. “I’m not sure that Littleton wants to stand out when the whole south-metro area has said no.”

Mayor Debbie Brinkman and Councilor Phil Cernanec joined Beckman’s firm opposition to pursuing an ordinance that would allow the four existing medical-marijuana dispensaries to add a retail component or convert altogether.

“Of course I’m completely opposed to it,” said Brinkman. “The people didn’t vote for retail sales, they voted on the right for people to use it, and for jurisdictions to decide how they wanted to handle that.”

Cernanec said his stance reflects his district, which voted against retail sales in last year’s statewide election despite Littleton as a whole voting in favor. He also cited the position of Littleton Public Schools officials.

“For each one of them, it’s not even a gray area on whether to allow adult usage as far as the message it sends to the young folks,” he said. “I’m in favor of eliminating criminalization of minor amounts, but I’m not looking for pot stores in the city.”

Councilor Jerry Valdes countered that kids often get pot from their own parents, and that perhaps parents should be more responsible. He’s an advocate for regulating pot like liquor, which was the goal of Amendment 64, and said alcohol is a huge problem in the schools, as well.

Melissa Van Diest, owner of The Hemp Center on Main Street, agreed.

“It doesn’t really matter, because their friends are probably just going to get it for them anyway,” she said. “It’s just like alcohol. Same problem, same idea.”

The support of Valdes and Councilors Peggy Cole, Bruce Stahlman and Jim Taylor was enough to direct Kristen Schledorn, deputy city attorney, to finalize the wording of an ordinance for council to consider on first reading Sept. 3, with a public hearing and final vote on Sept. 17.

“I kind of view it as a rose by any other name,” said Stahlman. “They had to lock themselves into the medical approach, but that genie is out of the bottle.”

The law will limit facilities to the four that exist now and grandfather them into their existing locations, despite the fact that three of them do not conform to zoning requirements. It mostly mirrors the current medical-marijuana regulations, and defers to state law where it is more strict.

“It has held the test of time, and we probably have four of the best-behaved medical-marijuana dispensaries in the state,” said Brinkman.

Should all four dispensaries decide to either go strictly retail or sell both retail and medical marijuana, 18- to 20-year-old medical-marijuana patients would have to fill their prescriptions out of town, as the law forbids anyone younger than 21 to enter a retail pot store.

City Manager Michael Penny said one of the dispensaries has reported it doesn’t want to go retail, presumably because medical marijuana is taxed less and patients can buy more than the ounce that retail customers are limited to.

Van Diest said she’d likely apply for dual licenses, though she’d be disappointed if her facility could no longer serve younger patients.

“I’m proud of Littleton for taking a rational point of view on this,” she said.

There was general consensus that only stores would be allowed, not growing or testing facilities, at least for now. City staff advised it might be wise to wait and see how that goes before allowing new types of ventures.

“None of those generate sales tax. I’m not interested,” said Brinkman. “I’d rather be known for other businesses and industries than this.”

Regardless of whether the current council approves retail pot sales, which would start in January, voters will decide this November whether the city can charge a 3 percent sales tax on marijuana above and beyond what the state will collect.

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