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Legalization Lessons And Other Frank Advice From Wash., Colo. City Managers

Grace Hood
A budtender at Choice Organics outside Fort Collins, Colo., weighs marijuana.

Local leaders in Colorado and Washington are writing the playbook when it comes to recreational marijuana use. With voters in places like Alaska, Washington D.C. and Oregon likely to soon consider legalization, officials shared their experiences during the International City County Management Association's 100th Annual Conference.

One big shift in cities that have legalized recreational marijuana has to do with how law enforcement approaches their jobs. David Timmons, city manager in Port Townsend, Washington, said police have tried to treat pot no different from alcohol.

"Our police chief and myself, we've been in constant communication about this in terms of talking about how we go about implementing change in the organization," said Timmons during a conference call with reporters.

In Fort Collins, City Manager Darrin Atteberry said there's also a shift that can happen for some city employees who are against recreational marijuana but suddenly find themselves overseeing a program. This can present management challenges, said Atteberry.

"Be aware of that. For example an employee in a city clerk's office who's now administering this program may have some real personal convictions that there's a big disconnect for them," he said.

Even with all the planning cities and counties do around legalized marijuana, Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam said there are some small details that can get overlooked. Due to the smell of marijuana, the city had to provide extra uniforms for employees performing audits and inspections, and a dedicated vehicle.

"Because if we were shutting down a facility and we put marijuana in a regular truck, it would make the truck smell, and other employees didn't want to get in there," said Brautigam.

Rules like these can only be written up based on experience. It’s yet another reason why municipal leaders in states that legalize recreational marijuana this fall will be looking to Colorado and Washington for direction.

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