5:00am

Tue March 18, 2014
Marijuana

Fort Collins City Council To Vote On Allowing Retail Pot Shops

In places like Denver and Steamboat Springs, the debate over retail marijuana has long been settled. It’s a different story in Fort Collins. A final decision on whether to allow retail marijuana in city limits is expected soon.

Grace Hood reports for Morning Edition.

Update 9:32 pm: Fort Collins city council voted 4-3 to allow retail pot sales.

The original post continues below:

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During a recent city council meeting on the topic, there were strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Citizen Ray Burgener said he was worried about teenage abuse of the drug.

“Does the Fort Collins city council and its perceived community value its youth more or less than being a leader in the marijuana industry in Colorado?” he said during the public comment period. “This has struck me to my core. And I hope it also does for some of you.”

Tom Anders, a disabled veteran who said he uses edible marijuana for pain control, thinks there are enough safeguards already in place to allow retail marijuana.

“You have to be 21 to get this,” he said. “I think the… well-being of our youth ought to fall on the parents of these kids.”

City council members narrowly voted March 4 to allow nearly one dozen existing medical marijuana shops to also sell retail marijuana. Councilman Gerry Horak was the swing vote in that decision. If an ordinance governing the licensing, number, location and operation of retail shops passes again March 18, Fort Collins would become one of the few Northern Colorado cities to allow the sale of retail marijuana.

“The genie’s already out of the bottle, the citizens of Colorado did that over a year ago in their vote on Amendment 64,” said Horak.

Larimer County already allows the sale of retail marijuana Horak points out.

“So having the retail to me is really having a regulated product that’s very under strict regulations for how it can be done,” he said.

At the Fort Collins medical marijuana shop Organic Alternatives, owner Steve Ackerman says he plans to expand into retail sales if the ordinance is approved.

“We will have to make some modifications to our store,” said Ackerman. “They have to be separate businesses.”

Both retail and medical shops can be co-located in the same store. Ackerman says it will cost thousands of dollars to purchase licenses to expand into the retail business. He says shops like his have been following onerous regulations since the industry opened up to allow marijuana sales.

"The genie's already out of the bottle, the citizens of Colorado did that over a year ago in their vote on Amendment 64."

“A licensee has a great deal invested in their business,” said Ackerman. “There’s a lot of impetus on a business owner to follow the rules and do what the regulations call for.”

That includes — under city rules — not selling retail or medical marijuana to anyone under the age of 21.

At Old Town Square in downtown Fort Collins, opinions are mixed.

“I’d be OK with it,” said Moriah Reusing, who said she supported Amendment 64 in 2012.

“I don’t have a problem with it, it’s not something I would do, but I did vote for it.”

Many people weren’t aware that Fort Collins is considering retail pot shops. Kaela Blumenshine said she’s concerned about more people driving under the influence of marijuana.

“I’m against it because I don’t think it’s regulated enough,” she said. “We have no regulation on driving under the influence of weed or anything like that.”

Driving under the influence of marijuana is against the law in Colorado. But there are no tests that police officers can use in the field to verify whether a person is driving high. The Colorado Department of Transportation launched a public ad campaign aimed at raising awareness about the perils of driving while high.

If approved, the ban on retail dispensaries would be lifted April 1. Council member Gerry Horak says the upcoming vote is only the last word from city council on retail marijuana shops. He says citizens against the move could still refer the issue to the November ballot — launching yet another public debate over marijuana.

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