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Retail marijuana not likely in city

Modified: Friday, Jul 19th, 2013

Courier editor

ALAMOSA — Alamosa will likely prohibit retail marijuana stores and manufacturing facilities.

The Alamosa city council in a 6-1 vote Wednesday night passed on first reading and scheduled for an August 7 public hearing an ordinance prohibiting businesses related to marijuana production and sales within the city limits.

Councilor Marcia Tuggle voted against the ordinance. She said regardless of how councilors personally felt about the issue, the voters had approved marijuana use, and the council should respect the voters’ wishes.

“The community has voted on this and we represent the community, and the majority of people in Alamosa are supportive of having a legal way to purchase marijuana,” Tuggle said.

She said marijuana could be regulated like alcohol is, and that would be preferable to people going to the streets to buy it. She added she thought it was unfair to attribute higher crime rates to marijuana because there are other factors involved in crime.

Alamosa Police Chief Craig Dodd had presented several points to the council in favor of the ordinance from a public safety perspective. He said from his experience commanding a drug task force for five years marijuana sales prompted such crimes as burglary, robbery and driving under the influence of marijuana. He added Alamosa has historically higher crime rates than other comparable cities in the state, and many of the crimes locally are related to some type of controlled substance.

Dodd said medical marijuana is already established and available in the Valley. Voters in Colorado had previously approved medical marijuana and more recently approved recreational use.

City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said as a result of voters statewide approving Amendment 64, residents are permitted to use small amounts of marijuana recreationally and may grow their own for such purposes. That would still be allowed, regardless of what the city decided regarding retail marijuana, Schwiesow explained.

The amendment included a provision allowing governing bodies like the city council to opt out of permitting recreational marijuana facilities and retail stores, however.

In the past the city prohibited medical marijuana facilities and could do the same with retail marijuana, Schwiesow said.

He added if the city council does not prohibit marijuana-related businesses it would have to develop regulations designating the authority governing such businesses and other parameters. The city would have to enact a moratorium on such businesses until an ordinance governing them was in place.

Two Alamosa residents speaking to the council at the beginning of the Wednesday meeting favored the governance of retail marijuana over its prohibition. Jan Oen recommended a proposed alternative that would give the city more flexibility in the long run. The alternative would regulate marijuana facilities through licensing and zoning within the city. She added that such facilities would add to the city’s tax base and economic development.

The first alternative, prohibiting marijuana businesses, was the one chosen by all but one of the council members to proceed to public hearing.

“I feel the first alternative is extremely narrow and very short sighted,” Oen said.

Don Thompson recommended treating marijuana in a similar manner as alcohol in the city.

Councilman Josef Lucero voted on first reading to prohibit marijuana-related stores and facilities but said the council could always reevaluate its decision in the future.

“At this point in time it doesn’t really hurt to opt out because we can always opt back in,” he said.

He said he had talked with many of his constituents who did not want retail marijuana sales in the city limits.

“It’s legal to possess up to six plants. You can grow it if you like.”

Councilman Charles Griego said this week was just the first reading, and the council would hear public input during its next meeting, so the council could decide on a different course at that time if it wished.

Mayor Kathy Rogers said she believed there were too many unknowns associated with this issue right now.

“Opting out doesn’t mean forever,” she said, “but it gives us a chance to look at what’s going on.”

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