Amendment 64 allowed communities to opt out of retail pot industry, and plenty of them have done so. As we've reported, weed sales have been prohibited in far more places than they're allowed. But Pueblo isn't balking at this new industry. Far from it: The city called on an A64 co-author to consult on draft regulations that will be debated at a public hearing this afternoon. And tomorrow, says one local official, "we're going to pass them" -- and take advantage of nearby bans to bring more revenue into city coffers.
That politico is Sal Pace, a former Colorado House Minority Leader who's now a Pueblo County Commissioner, as well as an advocate for doing the will of voters when it comes to Amendment 64, which was approved by a 10 point margin in the area he represents. As such, he and others in Pueblo reached out to Amendment 64 co-author Brian Vicente and his law firm, Vicente Sederberg, to help guide the community through the process.
"They served as contract attorneys to help us write our regulations," Pace says, adding, "it's not an uncommon thing for a county government to go out and find the best expertise to help us with different subject matter. In this case, we would have expended money anyhow to pay for the salary of our county attorney staff. But by hiring Vicente Sederberg, we were able to free up our staff on a whole host of other important issues for the county, and we brought on the most knowledgeable attorneys in the state on marijuana regulation."
Vicente "started off examining and reviewing our existing medical marijuana regulations," Pace goes on, "and he worked closely with our economic development office as well as our planning office to look at our zoning requirements, to see if those needed to be tweaked. And he had several briefings for us as commissioners to give us the lay of the land in the regulatory environment -- to let us know everything we need to accomplish to be fully ready by January 1, 2014," when retail sales can legally get underway in Colorado.
The current draft of the regulations is on view below, and Pace says some elements could still shift at today's work session, which starts at 3 p.m. at the Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 West 10th Street (phone 719-583-6000 for more information). Right now, he says by way of example, "we have a nine-month period in which only medical establishments can transfer over to recreational sales" -- an approach similar to one at the state level. "But we also are allowing establishments that have their medical licenses by October 15, and we might extend that to November 1 if they're showing a good-faith effort. People have put in a lot of work to get their applications in, and we don't want to freeze those guys out. I expect we'll give a little more leeway to those folks."
At the same time, Pace recognizes that "Colorado is leading the way nationally" on cannabis regulation, "and we want Pueblo to lead the way not just in Colorado, but nationally. We're not just about allowing recreational marijuana. We also want to have a robust regulatory environment and generate tax revenues so we can invest in the important functions of our community, whether it's policing out of the sheriff's department or economic development or roads and bridges."
Is Pace surprised at how many communities seemingly have no interest in collecting these additional revenues?
"I served in the legislature, and I was constantly shocked by the reefer madness of policy makers," he notes. "I think part of it is the fear of the unknown, and part of it is a disbelief that this is the real will of the voters. But I think ultimately, politicians who decide to go against the will of the voters are expressing an air of arrogance about them. They may think they're smarter than the people, but these are the same people who voted for them."
Continue for more of our interview with Sal Pace, including the latest draft of Pueblo's marijuana regulations.
Not that Pace is upset about the decisions being made by other municipalities in the state, including many near Pueblo.
"As communities turn down this part of Amendment 64, we see it as an opportunity for growth in Pueblo," he says. "Recently, the Colorado Springs City Council turned down recreational marijuana, and we were pretty excited about that from a strictly selfish perspective. Colorado Springs residents are a short twenty mile drive from the Pueblo County border. And coming from the south to the east, as people come in from Kansas and New Mexico, Pueblo County will be their first stop. So we're really excited about the potential for tax revenue from recreational marijuana."
Does he believe cities that watch Pueblo rake in pot dollars without suffering additional societal problems many critics fear will eventually change policies and start allowing cannabis sales as well?
"I hope not, but it's distinctly possible," he says. "If we lead the way and we serve as a model, then we're doing everything right today -- and we have to do it right, because we're going to be in a little bit of an island down here. We're going to have a lot of people watching, because we'll be the next major community south of Denver to allow recreational sales."
Thus far, Pace says response to the draft, and Pueblo's pro-sales approach, "has been favorable, because we're being very thoughtful about how we're doing everything. For example, we're going to build in an enforcement officer, someone who can go in and inspect these businesses to make sure they're living up to the law and the county code -- and that's only gotten positive reviews.
"Our goal here is to be ready for business January 1 and to have the most thought-out rules that include taxation and enforcement -- rules that will be a shining model for the entire country."
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Here's the current draft of Pueblo's marijuana regulations.
More from our Marijuana archive circa July: "Marijuana: Pueblo County approves grow facility despite water rights complaints."