From Darkness To Light

2 Feb 2014

City officials suggest excluding new non-medical pot shops from Main Avenue in Durango

Posted by Adam Howell

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Recommendations from Durango City Councilors and staff at a study session could result in the drafting of new regulations that would exclude any new pot shops from opening in Durango’s Central Business District.

This map shows how the City's proposed buffers of 1000 ft. around schools, parks, daycare facilities and counseling centers would totally preclude any new pot shops from opening up in Durango's Central Business District.
This map shows how the City’s proposed buffers of 1000 ft. around schools, parks, daycare facilities and counseling centers would totally preclude any new pot shops from opening up in Durango’s Central Business District. Map courtesy of the City of Durango.

Proposed pot shop regulations that the new City Attorney will write for the City of Durango, after they are hired:

  1. No business licenses will be issued for any new pot shops (medical or non-medical) in Durango’s Central Business District for the first two years, other than the one that’s been grandfathered in (Sante Alternative Wellness). This additional two-year moratorium would start at the end of the current moratorium on June 30,2014.
  2. The buffer distance will be increased from 500 ft. to 1,000 ft. between any new pot shops and preexisting schools, parks, daycare facilities or counseling centers.
  3. The only non-medical marijuana retailers in the entire city limits that the City is suggesting be allowed to obtain a license will be preexisting medical marijuana businesses that wish to convert over to non-medical retail.

These suggested regulations were agreements that City Councilors and staff came to at their last study session on November 12, 2013.

All of the City’s regulations for non-medical marijuana will be written by the yet-to-be-hired predecessor of City Attorney David Smith, who is currently retiring. After the new regulations are written, the City Council will have hearings to gather public input.

Outside of the City’s suggested regulations for new non-medical pot retailers, some members of the City Council and staff are skeptical that any business owner is going to approve of a new pot shop opening up near them.

City Councilor Christina Rinderle said that she is against new pot shops opening up in the Central Business District because of a perceived collective opposition from existing business owners there. She cited a Licensing Authority meeting on March 20, 2012 where business owners spoke out against a new medical marijuana dispensary opening up near them.

In that particular case, Michael Weisser, the owner of Rocky Mountain High (aka Durango Alternatives) had sought a license to relocate his dispensary at the south end of Main Ave, only to have the Licensing Authority deny the application due to the outcries of several business owners, of which, The Strater Hotel’s Rod Barker was one.

In sharp contrast, the Licensing Authority approved a license for Discount Liquors on Florida Rd, right next to Family Center daycare facility, on July 19, 2011. This, despite strong objections from numerous parents living at the adjacent Island Cove Trailer Park and objections from the Family Center’s Program Director Rachel Cameron, whose statements were acknowledged by the City.

City Councilor Keith Brant said in an email that he is against both recreational or medical marijuana retailers operating on Main Ave.

“Yes, weed on Main would negatively affect our tourism and thus our economy,” said Brant.

The City Council also favors heavier restrictions on pot shops than what currently exists for medical dispensaries.

“There is a consensus on Council to restrict the locations of rec weed facilities – not sure any of us have an interest in supporting rec weed next to day care facilities,” said Brant. “Why would we?”

Rinderle said that the City was also planning on mirroring Colorado State Department of Justice rules that require a 1,000 ft. buffer between pot shops and schools, parks, and daycare facilities. Not to be confused with state law, the federal government has a rule banning pot shops from opening within 1,000-ft of any school.

The existence of a State law requiring a 1,000-foot buffer between pot shops and parks and daycare facilities could not be confirmed by this blogger, however.

A map displayed at the study session showed color-coded circles around each park, school, day care facility and counseling center, to demonstrate the distances that would exist under the staff’s recommended buffers from any new pot shops.

Also, City staff advised Council that medical marijuana dispensaries are bringing in $200,000 in city sales tax revenue, annually.

Both City Council and staff agreed that any new sales tax for the new regulations was not necessary.

City Councilor Dean Brookie refused to reply to this blogger’s phone calls and emails about marijuana regulations.

Safety and welfare of pot shops and the surrounding community

A reoccurring misconception among City officials and the public is that marijuana shops–both medical and non-medical–are a cash only kind of business. The payment processing industry has changed, and this belief is now wrong.

Federal law currently puts federally insured banks (FDIC) at bay from doing business with marijuana retailers due to the risk of the feds prosecuting for drug racketeering charges. That has kept many banks from allowing pot retailers from opening up accounts with them.

That’s  why some marijuana retailers have figured out that they can still process credit card transactions with certain companies that you probably haven’t heard of.

Companies such as 420 Card Processing and 420 Merchant Solutions, a service of Atlas Payment Processing, are currently offering businesses options for processing credit card payments.

Atlas Payment Processing rents out counter-top terminals for processing credit, ATM or cashless debit card purchases with transaction fees of $2.50 cents assessed to the customer, according to Denese Wynne, manager of Atlas Payment Processing. The retailer pays a statement and insurance fee, and other fees associated with the equipment, depending on what they decide to use.

A local dispensary called Durango Organics, for example, is currently processing credit card transactions, although nobody working there is willing to go on the record to talk about exactly which company they are going through.

In addition to the opportunity of pot shops doing business with different, more legal kinds of payment processors, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently told a crowd of people at the University of Virginia that the Obama Administration will soon be crafting regulations that allow all banks to do business with marijuana retailers.

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