Steamboat Springs A debate about regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries spurred questions Tuesday night about whether dispensaries negatively affect a community’s character.
The Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance regulating dispensaries in city limits but directed city staff attorney Dan Foote to make several revisions to the ordinance. Tuesday’s meeting also included final approval of the city’s 2010 budget with a discussion about costs for some recreation programs; a new franchise agreement with Comcast; the legalization of urban chickens; and acceptance of a successful petition from the Let’s Vote group, which is seeking a public vote on the Steamboat 700 annexation.
A key paragraph fueled the discussion about dispensaries.
“Whereas, the City Council finds that the operations of medical marijuana dispensaries … have in some cases had adverse impacts on their communities’ character, increased the supply of recreational as opposed to medicinal marijuana, and generated increased crime rates, including armed robberies of dispensaries and their patients,” the ordinance states.
Council members Walter Magill, Jon Quinn, Kenny Reisman and Meg Bentley questioned portions of that language, which Foote said was necessary from a legal standpoint to justify the ordinance’s security requirements for dispensaries.
“I don’t know that it’s necessary to imply that the use of medical marijuana has an adverse impact on community character,” Quinn said. “I don’t know how that justifies the use of a security camera.”
The regulation of dispensaries is uncharted territory in many municipalities and states. Police Chief J.D. Hays said police departments and municipalities in California provided the most guidance in his research of medical marijuana ordinances.
“California had very strict security regulations, especially the city of Los Angeles,” Hays told the council Tuesday, explaining the basis for Steamboat’s ordinance and its language.
Hays acknowledged that Steamboat has “less of a problem with violent crime” than other parts of the country. In that vein, Bentley asked that “armed robberies” be changed to “burglaries.”
Foote said he could create “softened” language that preserved the city’s legal standing. The council also asked for revisions to protect patient anonymity and clarify points about licensing and signage. The current ordinance prohibits dispensaries from having any signs advertising marijuana on the premises, signs using the word “marijuana” or its synonyms, or depictions of any portion of the plant. Charlie Magnuson, co-owner of D and C Medical Marijuana and Therapeutic Massage, said he displays price boards and state health forms that use the word “marijuana.” Foote clarified that the prohibition applies only to signage “visible from the exterior of the building.”
A second and potentially final reading of the medical marijuana ordinance is scheduled for Dec. 15.
Also Tuesday, City Council unanimously gave final approval to the $39.6 million 2010 budget but raised questions about the cost of programs in the city’s Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department. Director Chris Wilson and recreation supervisor Susan Petersen submitted a memo stating, “the goal is for adult programs to recover 100 percent of costs, (and) youth programs at least 60 percent of costs,” but stated that the goal will take time to implement.
Council President Cari Hermacinski said continued city subsidies for programs such as mountain bike races and the pentathlon contradict policy guidelines — requesting cost recovery — the council “set over two years ago,” a position supported by Bentley and Magill.
“My philosophy is it could happen overnight,” Hermacinski said about cuts to recreation programs if city revenues do not increase. “If things continue to worsen, these are the first places I’m going to look — this is a want to have, not a need to have.”
Wilson said he will continue to work with parks and recreation commission members to reduce city subsidies for recreation programs and said fee increases for adult programs could be part of those conversations.
The City Council also approved the city’s new franchise agreement with Comcast. The 10-year agreement includes a 1 percent franchise fee increase — from 3 to 4 percent — that city staff estimates would raise about $45,000 for the city per year, at an annual cost of about $25 per subscriber. That cost is an increase of $6 per year per subscriber, from the $19 annual cost at the 3 percent rate. The Comcast agreement passed, 4-3, with Magill, Scott Myller and Bentley opposing.
As many as five hens now are allowed in some of the city’s residential districts after unanimous council approval Tuesday.
Finally, the City Council received a certificate of sufficiency from City Clerk Julie Franklin, regarding the petition submitted by the Let’s Vote group seeking a public vote on the Steamboat 700 annexation.
Steamboat 700 is a 487-acre annexation approved by the Steamboat Springs City Council on Oct. 13 in a 4-3 vote. It proposes about 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space just west of the current city limits.
The City Council is scheduled to decide Dec. 15 whether to repeal the ordinance that approved Steamboat 700 or put the annexation to a public vote.