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Mancos board discusses letter to federal government on marijuana

Mayor opts out of statement on federal policy
A measure of marijuana.

After a lively debate, Mancos Mayor Queenie Barz has opted not to sign a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding his stance on retail marijuana.

In an item that was added to the agenda after 5 p.m. Wednesday, the board discussed a letter sent by Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek. Barz said several other local government officials had also signed it, but she ultimately decided not to add her signature. The letter asks Sessions to reconsider his Jan. 4 decision to rescind the Cole memorandum, an Obama-era policy that prevented federal prosecutors from bringing charges against retail marijuana businesses in states where pot is legal.

Several members of the board said they personally didn’t approve of marijuana, but they didn’t think the federal government should be able to override the governments of states that have made it legal.

“I think it’s interesting that the people who are so pro-states’ rights when it appeals to them can take that away,” Mayor Pro Tem Fred Brooks said. “My opinion would be that we should be supportive of this.”

In December, the board approved a business license for Mancos’ third retail marijuana dispensary. Cortez is in the process of licensing a sixth. Brooks pointed out that tax revenue from these stores has been very beneficial to the town.

Town attorney David Liberman said he approved of the letter as he understood it, but Mancos Administrator Heather Alvarez advised the board to be cautious.

“As a town, that’s a very polarizing issue,” she said. “As a government, we really have to not be radical on either side.”

She said she feared signing the letter could open a “political can of worms,” although she also said no one in Mancos has written a formal complaint about the town’s marijuana shops in recent years.

The letter, which has been signed by several Colorado government officials, praises the Cole memo as a guidance that brought clear direction and public safety to states like Colorado, and said its absence will leave federal and local authorities confused on how to deal with marijuana.

“Of greatest concern ... is the sheer confusion felt by local officials who now face governing in a chaotic government,” the letter said. “While it may have been the intention to spark uncertainty for legal cannabis license holders across the nation, it also created significant confusion for local governments in 31 states and territories where they have comprehensive programs regulating the licensing, land use, enforcement, and taxation of the industry.”

Sheek said she received the letter from Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace after a conference call on Jan. 11. and asked the rest of the Cortez City Council members for approval through email before she signed it on Jan. 16.

The Mancos board members informally agreed to give Barz an extra day to research the issue before making her decision on Friday. On Friday afternoon, she said she had decided not to sign the letter because she had not yet heard back from the town’s attorney on the issue.

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