By Sheridan Block
Ouray's back-and-forth debate on retail marijuana came to a temporary end on Monday when city council decided to move forward with a short-term moratorium.
With the deadline quickly approaching for potential retailers to begin applying for licenses at a local level, Monday's meeting was the last possible meeting for discussion on the highly sensitive subject. City council had three options to choose: to draft regulations, to let voters decide or to ban marijuana facilities altogether.
Following a number of emotionally charged dialogues at previous meetings, among councilors and community members alike, a majority of council voted to place a moratorium until the November 2014 election, when the community will vote in favor of or against allowing retail sales. In the meantime, council, city staff and legal advisers will work together to draft ballot questions that will specifically detail which direction the community wants to go, whether it be a complete ban or detailed regulations.
The decision was prompted by council member Michael Underwood at the July 1 meeting, which included a large public gathering. It was Underwood's suggestion that council put a moratorium in effect through the next year while staff works on regulations. Having voters ultimately decide would be the most "fair thing" to do, said Underwood.
Council member Richard Kersen, who is adamantly against allowing marijuana facilities in the city, added on Monday that he didn't think staff should put all their time and energy into drafting regulations during the temporary ban. Instead, staff should focus on drafting specific questions to place on the ballot. That way if the community does decide they want pot shops in town, staff will have a clear and specific idea of how to regulate them.
Mayor Bob Risch agreed that the temporary ban would give the city more time to work and do research, as there is so much that is so unknown and so vague.
However, councilor (and newly elected mayor pro tem) John Ferguson only partially agreed with the idea. He said he would be willing to place a moratorium on other facilities, such as growing, manufacturing and testing, until the state is clearer on its regulations. As far as retail shops go, he insisted that Ouray voters already made their decision and feelings clear when they voted in favor of Amendment 64 last year.
"I think we're rehashing what's been said before, but there has been a vote," said Ferguson. "I think it's naive to say that you're for Amendment 64 but you're not for it here in Ouray."
Business owner and Ouray resident Bruce Gulde, who spoke in favor of allowing retail shops in town, said that he agreed with a vote from the community.
"I do think that the vote for Amendment 64 was at the macro level. I think what we need to do is look at the micro level," he said.
After Monday's brief discussion, Underwood moved to adopt an ordinance to impose a temporary moratorium regarding the establishment of any retail marijuana facility. Based on a draft of the ordinance that staff provided to council, the moratorium will be effective through Dec. 31, 2014, though may be shortened or extended by council "in its discretion should it find good cause to do so." Council voted 3 to 1 in favor of the moratorium, with Ferguson the lone no vote.
"I respect the opinions of the citizens who took the time to voice their thoughts on the Amendment 64 issue. I support the decision the council ultimately made and look forward to hearing the people speak at the ballot box in November of 2014," Ferguson told the Plaindealer on Tuesday evening.
In other business on Monday, council:
- held a moment of silence for councilor Gary Hansen, who passed away on July 5 after a hard fought battle against cancer.
- elected former mayor Pam Larson to fill the open council position left by the late Gary Hansen. When a council position becomes open, council and staff generally look for someone who has previously served and understands the position. Larson volunteered to fill in until November, when Hansen's seat will be up for re-election, as well as Risch's and Ferguson's.
- appointed Ferguson as mayor pro tem, a title which was previously held by Hansen.
RELATED STORY: Ridgway Town Council holds first reading of retail marijuana sales.