City uses some suggestions in draft pot rules

Latest proposal drops buffer from day care centers

The Durango City Council and those in the marijuana industry grew a bit closer Tuesday afternoon as councilors hashed out remaining issues on the city’s draft retail marijuana regulations.

The new proposed ordinance adopted several suggestions made at a tense public hearing last week. All councilors except Christina Rinderle have embraced recreational pot sales in the Central Business District. She was absent from Tuesday’s study session, but City Attorney Dirk Nelson read an email from her strongly supporting banning the businesses downtown.

The biggest change made during the study session was eliminating a buffer between the shops and child care or day care facilities. Councilors previously had considered a 500-foot and 250-foot separations.

City Planner Nicole Killian said day care centers are not on the federal government’s list. The federal government has enhanced penalties for drug activity near certain facilities, such as schools and parks. It has sent “cease and desist” letters to businesses too close to schools, including medical pot dispensaries in Durango. It has not been cracking down on businesses near parks.

Councilor Dick White suggested allowing the city’s licensing authority to give a variance on the park separation distance.

State law requires a 1,000-foot separation between medical marijuana dispensaries and schools, substance-abuse treatment facilities and child care centers. However, Nelson said there’s no such state requirement for recreational stores.

“I think we all from a staff level believe that going significantly smaller on schools would be problematic for people who were licensed,” Nelson said. “Leave the schools alone.”

The new draft proposal has a “buyer beware” clause saying marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law, and pot businesses could be shut down by federal agencies. The city is “ignoring” or “diminishing” the federal requirement on parks, city officials said, and business owners have to take the risk.

Those with medical pot licenses have first crack at either converting to a retail location or co-locating retail and medical sales. Previous city co-locating requirements were reduced in the latest draft regulations. State law says medical pot centers that serve only people older than 21 can be in the same place. If the medical establishment serves patients younger than 21, there has to be a complete separation of the businesses.

The ordinance also softened language on coupons, taking language directly from state statues that bans paper coupons and fliers “on the street” and free samples. But recreational store owners can advertise in a newspaper or magazine in general circulation within a city or on the Internet.

The city of Durango still will ban social clubs, marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facilities. It plans to consider allowing the stores in mixed-use buildings that have residential units as long as there’s a separate entrance, they’re on separate floors and use a ventilation system that meets city code.

Councilor Dean Brookie said he’s heard from some concerned residents that there could be a recreational pot shop at East Third Avenue and College Drive. However, Killian said a business there would trigger a change of use, so the developers would have to find excess parking. The city also would consider if it would cause a major street impact.

The Durango City Council will hold another public hearing on retail and medical marijuana regulations next week.