Moratorium set on marijuana clubs

ALAMOSA—Alamosa city council Wednesday night unanimously passed a six-month moratorium on marijuana consumption clubs in the city limits.

However, the planning commission and city council will have to deal with an application submitted before the moratorium passed. City Attorney Erich Schwiesow informed the council that between the first and second readings of the ordinance establishing a temporary moratorium, the city received an application for a marijuana consumption club.

“That application is pending in front of the planning commission right now,” he said.

The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the application during its March 29 meeting at 6 p.m. at city hall. The application will then come before the city council on April 19.

“This moratorium would not have any effect on that application,” Schwiesow added. “This moratorium would affect any applications that would be filed during the effective period.”

During the moratorium period, which lasts through September, the city will take any marijuana club applications in the order they are submitted in case the council decides at the conclusion of the moratorium to allow cannabis clubs but limit the number.

Regarding the pending application, Schwiesow and Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks explained that the planning commission could recommend to the council approval, denial or approval with conditions. Brooks said the planning commission could take the location of the proposed club into account as well as other information provided by the applicant. Staff recommended to the applicant to provide as much information as possible.

Staff will also be reviewing the application and making a recommendation to the planning commission and city council.

The city currently has no zoning category where such a club would be permitted by right, Brooks explained. The application would come under a special use review, she added.

Schwiesow said the city’s codes do not specify anything like this, and the closest thing to it is fraternal organizations, which is the category the pending application will be considered under. He said the zoning review process that is currently underway would help clear this up, which is why staff recommended a temporary moratorium.

During the public hearing on the moratorium, Dr. Martin Sowards said he had hoped the city would pass a permanent moratorium on marijuana clubs but it looked like an application had “snuck in” before the moratorium was passed.

Dr. Sowards said he did not believe this type of business has a place in Alamosa.

“It really wouldn’t do anything for us,” he said.

Brooks said the city council could not pass an indefinite moratorium but could decide at the end of the moratorium to ban marijuana clubs. The moratorium period allows the city council to gather information and review its options.

Councilman Jan Vigil asked if the council could skip the temporary moratorium and decide right now that it will prohibit marijuana clubs in the city limits. Councilman Ty Coleman said he had received so much public input against them he was having a hard time finding anything to balance that out. He tended to think a ban would be appropriate, he said, “because I personally do not see any benefit whatsoever to our community.”

Councilor Michael Stefano agreed.

“I think there should be a ban,” he said. “We’ve got enough problems with alcohol.”

Schwiesow said if the council wanted to go forward with a ban, it would have to go through the same process it had for the moratorium, with a first and second reading and public hearing, which would probably come before the council on April 19.

Vigil asked how the council’s decision might affect a possible election question regarding marijuana. Schwiesow said Shanna Hobbs, who is circulating petitions to place marijuana-related questions on the ballot, did have a petition draft regarding marijuana clubs, but the city clerk rejected it for a number of reasons, and it was not corrected, so the petitions currently out in the community are for recreational and medical marijuana only. That does not mean someone couldn’t still submit a ballot question regarding cannabis club, Schwiesow added.

If the city council banned marijuana clubs and voters decided in an election to allow them, the council would have to abide by the election results, Schwiesow said. Brooks added that would apply with medical and recreational businesses as well, because the city currently does have a ban on those.
Councilman Charles Griego said he believed the council needed time to hear both sides of the issue before making a final decision on marijuana clubs. He said he had heard from people who wanted marijuana establishments and he believed the council had so far heard one side.

“We are representing the people, all the people,” he said. “We still live in a democracy where both sides should be heard.”

Councilor Kristina Daniel agreed. She said passing an ordinance banning clubs right now did not feel comfortable to her.

“I would like more information,” she said, “see what other communities are doing.”

Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley also favored passing a temporary moratorium so the council could receive more information.

Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero said he personally did not know that he wanted marijuana clubs in his community, but he was on council to represent the majority of the people in the community and do what they wanted. Passing the moratorium gives the council time to look into this further, he said.
When the temporary moratorium came to a vote, the council unanimously approved it.