Marijuana: Commercial pot shops prohibited in Douglas County as others consider bans

As of December 26, "retail marijuana stores" are officially prohibited in Douglas County. That means that six weeks after the legalization of recreational marijuana, any commercial activities involving pot are banned in DougCo. The county is the first in Colorado to enact this kind of ordinance -- and it made the move a full year before any recreational marijuana entrepreneur in Colorado will be able to set up shop.

Is Douglas County jumping the gun?

According to county officials, no.

Amendment 64, Colorado's Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana act, legalizes small amounts of recreational marijuana for adults. Officially signed into law earlier this month, individuals 21 and over can now legally smoke in private, give pot to other adults and grow up to six plants.

But no one can sell recreational marijuana -- at least not yet. A64 stipulates that all recreational shops will have to be licensed before they can open, and that requires the Colorado Legislature to actually create the framework for the licensing process, which it could do this upcoming session. That means Colorado probably won't see pot shops opening their doors until January 2014, at the earliest. (And that timeline doesn't take into account potential enforcement action from the federal government, which maintains that pot is illegal).

So why is Douglas County going forward with a ban on retail activity before 2013 even begins?

First of all, Douglas County spokeswoman Wendy Holmes tell us, the municipality is allowed to enact the ordinance.

A64 stipulates that governments can have local control over the commercial aspect of legalization and DougCo's ordinance, which went into effect yesterday, is taking advantage of this. On full view below, it says:

Consistent with the authority granted to a "Locality" under the provisions of Amendment 64, the Board of County Commissioners desires to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities or retail marijuana stores within the unincorporated areas of Douglas County, Colorado.

As we reported in November when it was proposed, the Douglas County commissioners have a long of history of anti-marijuana policies when it comes to commercial activity. DougCo took a similar stance related to medical marijuana.

Holmes says the county is doing this now because it wants to avoid a situation in which pot shops open up and then subsequent voter-backed measures ban them, forcing active retail operations to shut down.

"To be fair to the entrepreneur that wants to be in that business, the board wants to send a message right away that they are going to honor the will of the voters," she says. "We just didn't think that was fair to the business community."

The will of the voters that Holmes is referring to is not the majority of Coloradans who favored legalization on November 6, but rather the majority of Douglas County residents who opposed A64 -- and have repeatedly voted against pro-pot proposals.

Continue for more on Douglas County and other potential bans in Colorado.

A presentation, on full view below, outlines this history in detail. In 2000, voters in Douglas County voted against a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. In 2006, a majority voted against the legal possession of marijuana for adults. In 2010, they voted to ban medical marijuana, and this year, 53.98 percent voted against A64.

"The votes of the people over those four elections made it very clear where our citizens stood," says Holmes. "This is what made the decision of the board that much easier.... It's fundamental to the board's decision."

Meanwhile, El Paso County has pushed ahead on a ban that is expected to go to the final approval stage in January. Boulder debated a ban and decided not to go forward with it; Weld County is in the process of considering an ordinance as well.

Those bans would all impact the unincorporated areas of the counties; cities and towns can also implement bans through local control. For example, the town of Parker has moved forward with such an ordinance. Holmes says she does not know of other municipalities in Douglas County that have passed bans.

"What's important for people to understand is that we're honoring the statewide vote," Holmes says, emphasizing that the ban is on commercial activity only. "We have to, it's a constitutional amendment."

A newly formed governor's task force is working on making recommendations on the framework for retail operations. And at least one of its members, Christian Thurstone, the addiction expert who we recently interviewed, says he hopes most areas implement bans.

"Anything that decreases the commercialization of marijuana is a good thing from the standpoint of adolescents," says Thurstone, who was very opposed to A64 on the grounds that it will increase teen pot smoking. "I think most of the state will probably follow suit.... We'll have to wait and see."

Continue for the full ordinance and the full presentation outlining Douglas County's past votes on marijuana.

Here's the ordinance. Douglas County

And here's a presentation on past votes in Douglas County related to marijuana. Marijuana Presentation

More from our Marijuana archive: "Amendment 64: Will pot discourage companies abroad from expanding to Colorado?"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin