ALAMOSA — With an election a month away, Alamosa city councilors Wednesday night voted unanimously to place a temporary moratorium on retail and medical marijuana businesses if voters approve them on the November 7th city ballot.
Several residents spoke to the city council during its public hearing on the moratorium ordinance Wednesday night, with some urging the council to enact the moratorium and others seeking a shorter term on the moratorium if the council went forward with it.
The moratorium will be in place until May 1 of next year, but Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said the council could end it sooner if rules and regulations governing marijuana businesses are in place before that time. Brooks explained that the moratorium will give staff and council time to develop regulations governing marijuana sales in the city limits, if voters allow them.
Voters face separate ballot questions to allow medical and/or retail marijuana businesses in the city limits in addition to a tax on retail marijuana sales if the voters approve them.
Brooks said the moratorium would only go into effect if one or both of the marijuana ballot items passes, because since retail and medical marijuana sales are currently prohibited in the city limits, there would be no need for a moratorium on them if voters did not lift the prohibition in November.
She added that if voters approve either or both ballot questions, the city would accept applications for marijuana-related businesses in the order they were received during the moratorium period in the event the city council decided to limit the number of marijuana businesses in the city limits.
Diana Hall, president of the new nonprofit CannaPower Foundation, talked about the healing properties she has witnessed with marijuana and said she hoped people would be open to listening and learning about it, as she has since suffering heart attacks and moving to Colorado for treatment.
David Broyles supported the moratorium and thanked the city council for instituting it.
Chloe Everhart said there are logical fallacies associated with marijuana such as the idea that it is a gateway drug.
“I see marijuana as an exit drug,” she said. She said marijuana gives people an alternative to opioids for pain and is helpful for a variety of conditions including cancer, seizures, head injuries and PTSD.
Everhart added that some people are unable to access the current medical marijuana dispensary outside the city limits because they can’t drive and it is too far for them to walk.
Terry Smith talked about his efforts over the past 30 years to support economic development in the city including helping to get the recreation center built and serving on chamber, economic development and marketing district boards.
“There’s been too many people, too much effort and time to get the community where it is today to move it backwards,” he said.
He said he had spoken with Antonito business owner Steve Atencio who warned him about letting marijuana businesses into Alamosa because he said it had ruined business in Antonito.
“Allowing dispensaries into Alamosa will move us backwards economically,” Smith said.
Shanna Hobbs asked the council to shorten the time period of the moratorium.
“I think six months is way too long,” she said.
She said cannabis has been legal in Colorado since 2012 and was approved by voters in Alamosa County, but proponents had to go through the process of petitioning the issue on the ballot in the city because the city did not permit marijuana sales.
She said it was unfair that other businesses are allowed to come in and sell items more dangerous and lethal than marijuana, whether cheeseburgers or alcohol, but marijuana businesses are put on hold.
She said marijuana businesses should be given as much of a chance as those selling alcohol.
“I don’t go to bars,” she said. “I use cannabis. It helps regulate my moods, helps me from being stressed out and my neuropathy and diabetes.”
She said although many people see it as a drug, marijuana is an herb.
She added that she has had to turn away hundreds of people at the medical marijuana business she manages because they are looking for retail marijuana.
Melanie Garcia spoke about the revenue that marijuana sales would provide here and have provided to Colorado since marijuana was legalized here. She said the revenues have been used for schools, drug prevention, treatment and regulation of the marijuana industry.
Ruthie Brown said she had no doubt her business would be out of business without cannabis growers, she was thankful for them, and they are good people.
“I hope I don’t lose the support of my regular customers because it’s all about gardening,” she said.
Brown told the council she hoped it would make the marijuana regulations a priority if the voters approve marijuana sales in the city.
“We have had enough time to figure it out in my opinion,” she said.
She said dispensaries can be good businesses, such as the one in Gunnison named Business of the Year, and there can be bad and good businesses of all types including garden centers, liquor stores and grocery stores.
Justin Madrid said, “I don’t smoke. I don’t drink, but I am for it.”
Councilor Kristina Daniel said she believed a moratorium made sense but agreed with those who urged the council to make regulations a priority if voters approve marijuana sales in the city. She said the city council should try to set them up in less than the six months the moratorium provides for.
Councilman Michael Stefano favored a moratorium as well. He said he has been criticized through mediums such as Facebook for his stand on the issue, but he wondered where it would stop if marijuana was allowed.
Stefano argued that marijuana is a gateway drug and that many youth said smoking pot led them into other drugs.
Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley said a moratorium would give the council time to set up regulations, and it would be hard to plan for that until it was passed. She agreed that if it does pass, the council needs to make those regulations a priority.
Councilman Jan Vigil agreed. He said there is information the city can access and research from other areas, and the city can also learn from the mistakes of other communities like Trinidad and Pueblo West that did not limit the number of marijuana businesses and are suffering the consequences.
Councilor Charles Griego said whatever direction the voters give the city council is what it should follow.
Councilman Ty Coleman said the council needed to enact the moratorium. “Until voters actually vote for/against it, there’s not much we can do.”
Mayor Josef Lucero said the council and city staff have a responsibility to perform due diligence in dealing with this matter, “to make sure all the ‘I’s are dotted and the ‘t’s’ crossed.”