From Darkness To Light

3 Jun 2015

Durango’s proposed law to ban condo residents from growing marijuana. Vote in this poll

Posted by Adam Howell

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Durango City Council will soon be holding a public hearing on proposed amendments to an existing ordinance that would ban anyone living in a mixed-family dwelling from growing marijuana there.


A fire that started in the bedroom of an upstairs unit in this building at Pinon Heights killed one, and displaced 12 people in total.

The amended ordinance would prohibit anyone from growing marijuana in their home that shares a wall with another residence due to concerns over the possibility of fire, mold or odors affecting their neighbors. This newly proposed ban on growing runs counter to the wording of Colorado’s Recreational Marijuana Act, called Amendment 64, which allows individuals to grow up to 6 recreational marijuana plants.

Another amendment to the ordinance would reiterate its ban on marijuana social clubs similar to the bans written into the municipal codes of Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Steamboat Springs and Nederland.

City Attorney Dirk Nelson proposed the changes as part of a review and update to Chapter 17 of the City’s Code, Section 17-26, for the City Council to consider approving.

Unlike what voters approved statewide in November of 2012, Durango’s muncipal ordincance 17-26 currently outlaws anyone from possessing or using recreational marijuana in city limits, as it predates the passage of Amendment 64.

At the same time, Durango Police Department only enforces Section 17-26 when people are consuming marijuana in publicly-owned areas. Those caught publicly partaking are charged for possession under this same ordinance based on the weight of their marijuana in possession as measured in grams or ounces, according to incident reports obtained by Horse Gulch Blog through a Colorado Open Records Act request made to Durango Police Department.

Since 2013, six adults ages 21 and older have been arrested and charged for use and possession of marijuana in city limits, according to police records. These arrests for publicly smoking marijuana were made under the  guidance of the existing municipal ordinance wording that parallels that of Amendment 64, yet simultaneously runs counter to the legal rights afforded by Amendment 64 for those wishing to possess up to an ounce without being charged under the City’s code.

People charged under Section 17-26 have either pled guilty and paid a $66 dollar fine, pled no contest and had their charged dismissed through a more expensive 120-day deferred judgement, or ignored the ticket and their case remains open, said Deputy City Clerk/Records Manager Dana Evans.

How a marijuana social club works in Denver, and could work in Durango

In Denver, marijuana social clubs like Club 64 exist to help tourists and locals find a private location to partake, weekly scheduled events, and VIP locations and private tours.

Most of the places where people go to get high–what you might think of as a marijuana social club–are actually bars or cafes with privately-accessed outdoor patio areas where users must bring their own herb to smoke, eat or vaporize, as retail sales of bud and indoor consumption there are strictly forbidden through government regulations, according to Tom Valdez, the owner of Club 64 in Denver.

Valdez helps tourists and locals find the social lounge, bar or cafe that’s 420 friendly where they can go to get high as part of the exclusive guest membership services offered to those who pay $20 dollars to join.

Bars in Denver are prohibited from allowing indoor marijuana consumption, but one private VIP club that does not sell alcohol or marijuana does allow indoor consumption, said Valdez.

In Durango, a recent startup called Durango Artisanal Tours takes people on half-day walking tours of historical Durango locations, to dispensaries, and to an exclusive location for a consumption opportunity while talking about Colorado’s marijuana laws.

It’s a little different than what people would think of as a cannabis club, but very progressive, either way.

Durango’s municipal ordinance on general smoking restrictions does not prohibit people from smoking marijuana, or even cigarettes, on a privately-owned outdoor patio. Further, Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act exempts the outdoor areas of any business from smoking restrictions.

In theory, businesses like Moes, Carver Brewing Company, Eolus Bar and Dining, Lost Dog Bar and Lounge, Old Tymer’s Cafe, and 8th Ave Tavern could be candidates for offering legal 420-friendly outdoor patio areas.

Currently, only Moes and Lost Dog Bar and Lounge allow marijuana to be consumed on their patios, and that’s only on a case by case basis, depending on how respectful and discreet they and the adjacent customers are about it.

Undetermined cause: 2009 fire fatality investigation at Pinon Heights Condominiums inconclusive

The cause of a fire that killed a man at Pinon Heights Condominiums in 2009 is unknown, according to Durango Fire Protection District’s Fire Marshal Karola Hanks, who wrote an investigation report on the incident.

James Middleton died in the kitchen of his apartment from smoke inhalation after a fire started in his bedroom, Hanks said. Middleton and his roommate were seen on their balcony during the fire where they told witnesses outside not to call 911 because they could take care of it on their own.

Remnants of a grow light resembling this one was found in the home of James Middleton, who died in a house fire at Pinon Heights Condominiums in 2009.

Remnants of a grow light resembling this one was found in the home of James Middleton, who died in a house fire at Pinon Heights Condominiums in 2009.

Evidence of at least seven marijuana plants was found, which were grown under high-intensity discharge (HID), high power sulfide (HPS) growing lights that were hanging directly adjacent to Middleton’s bed, as well as in his bathroom, said Hanks.

“In my mind, do I think that marijuana growing in that space, and the manner in which it was grown caused the fire? Yes. Can I prove it 100 percent? No. So in my world that’s an accidental, undetermined fire,” said Hanks.

Twelve residents at Pinon Heights Condominiums were displaced by the fire, including Middleton’s roommate, who had to be hospitalized from smoke inhalation, she said.

Hanks said that she has seen around a half dozen fires related to growing marijuana in both the city and the county over the years that she’s been working with the District.

“I will tell you that I see less of them now then before we legalized marijuana,” said Hanks. “I don’t know if we’ve just gotten lucky, or people are taking advantage of the concept that I don’t have to tap into electrical illegally now, I can hire an electrician to do it, or I can do it in the open where it’s visible and I’m not tucking it into my basement, and I’m not doing all these clandestine operations. Or are we just lucky at this point in time?”

Marijuana grow operations, according to Hanks, is not among the top five causes of house fires in Durango, which includes the following:

  1. Wood stove/fireplaces (improper installation, lack of cleaning, too close to combustibles, improper disposal of ashes)
  2. Electrical (old overloaded knob and post wiring, improper installation)
  3. Cigarettes (improper disposal of cigarette)
  4. Mechanical (water heater, water pump, insufficient ventilation for gas-fired appliance)
  5. Barbeque grills (improper installation, use on wooden deck, too close to combustibles, embers, forget to turn it off)

Hanks said that herself, the Deputy Fire Marshal, and two fire inspectors do Plan reviews for construction and remodels, construction inspection, fire investigations, and inspections. Their predominant inspection are called commercial, which includes the common areas of multi family structures.

They also do annual inspections of every licensed marijuana growing facility in La Plata County, she said.

City of Durango PDF documentation related to draft provisions:

Agenda Document for Study Session, Purpose and Background for Marijuana Personal Use and Cultivation Provisions 5-12-2015.docx

Amended draft of Section 17-26, Marijuana Offenses – Chapter 17 – Use and Cultivation Provisions draft (5-12-15 study session).docx

Overall reported arrests for Durango Police Department in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013

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