Marijuana: Boulder official calls for dual licenses on pot shops

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We recently wrote about the debate at the governor's marijuana task force regarding the licensing of retail pot shots. Sparking some controversy, at least one task force member wants to see a state agency own and operate all commercial establishments.

We now have a copy of a letter from Boulder officials that reveals their recommendation: a dual licensing system.

The debate around how retail pot shops will be established -- and how government will regulate them -- is heating up this month as Governor John Hickenlooper's Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64 pushes forward with its research. Hickenlooper announced the task force when he signed the Amendment 64 into law last month, making the voter-approved measure officially part of the constitution.

The task force, which will make recommendations to the legislature about how to implement the new measure, is now discussing a wide range of questions about legalized pot, including the fundamental mechanics of commercial operations.

In the aforementioned letter, Boulder's Office of the City Manager outlines its suggestion for licensing -- a crucial component to retail regulation. (Under law, adults can now possess small amounts of marijuana recreationally, but how pot will be sold in the state is still under consideration).

In the letter, City Manager Jane Brautigam says it is crucial for local governments to play a role in licensing and recommends a "dual licensing process" in which businesses would require licensing from both state and local authorities. This, she says, is how retail liquor licenses are regulated and enforced and would therefore remain true to the "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol" name of Amendment 64.

The letter, on view in full below, reads in part:

Our major concern with regard to retail marijuana businesses is that there is significant impact on the neighborhoods and cities where the businesses are located. Boulder has enforced its laws to protect residents and other businesses from negative impacts. It is far easier for a local community to regulate a relatively small number of businesses than for the state to regulate hundreds.

Brautigam argues that sole state authority would be inadequte, especially considering some of the challenges related to the medical marijuana industry. She says the state has been able to process less than 70 percent of the medical marijuana license applications it received in 2010. Moreover, she adds, the state hasn't held enforcement hearings for medical marijuana.

These kinds of burdens, she argues, should be shared with the cities directly impacted by the new industry.

Continue for more details on Boulder's request and a copy of the full letter. In proposing the dual licensing program, Boulder is referencing a model in which private merchants can open shops -- as opposed to one in which the state has sole ownership and control. And some of the original backers of A64 argue that the amendment is written in such a way that lawmakers cannot establish a system where only the state runs the industry.

Some counties, however, are working to avoid these concerns altogether -- by passing outright bans on retail pot establishments through local ordinances. Douglas County was the first to implement such a policy last month, even though it will be at least a year before any shop can open its doors, since the legislature must create the regulatory framework.

In the push for a dual licensing program, Boulder officials also argue that the city has successfully responded to medical marijuana applications -- processing over 125 applications, 117 of them within eleven months of November 2010. The city has completed renewals on all but three of the licenses and the Boulder Police Department has inspected each licensed location for compliance at least three times, Brautigam says.

"Our regulatory activity does not appear to have limited their business," she writes in the letter. "The dispensaries reported taxable sales in 2011 of approximately $20 million. We have achieved what we believe is an appropriate balance between protection of our community and execution of state law in enabling medical marijuana businesses."

Here's the full letter.

Enabling Legislation for Amendment 64

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Colorado Springs owes $3.3M-plus after dispensary prosecution fails, attorney says"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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