Our View: Marijuana zoning seems unnecessary
July 27, 2013
Proposed zoning laws for retail marijuana businesses in Steamboat
City Council would be wise to approach zoning for marijuana shops the same way it does with liquor stores.
The Steamboat Springs City Council would be smart to regulate marijuana retail businesses the same way liquor stores are regulated.
At a meeting last week, council members Sonja Macys and Cari Hermacinski said pot shops should be able to apply to move into any zone where liquor stores are allowed through a conditional-use process. That, we believe, is a reasonable approach. Unfortunately, a majority of council voted to restrict retail marijuana stores from being allowed in the business districts downtown or at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
The city's proposed marijuana rules, including the zoning, will come back for first reading Aug. 6, so there remains time for council members to change their minds. We contend that they should.
Council members said they wanted to take a cautious approach to marijuana shops. On the surface, such concern is understandable. But it's unwarranted when you look more closely at the matter.
First and foremost, there is ample evidence that the community's residents do not share council's concerns about marijuana businesses. In the November 2011 election, 60 percent of residents rejected a proposed ban on medical marijuana businesses in the city. Last fall, support for Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana and marijuana stores in Colorado, ranged from 63 percent to 75 percent in the seven voting precincts in the city. Steamboat residents clearly not only are comfortable with the recreational use of marijuana, but also with retail outlets that sell marijuana.
We are unaware of any public outcry about where marijuana shops are located. And the argument repeated at council the other night that zoning marijuana shops out of downtown will keep marijuana messaging away from children just doesn't fly. In recent memory, downtown Steamboat has hosted bars, liquor stores, discount tobacco stores and even a hookah lounge. No one ever expressed concern that children might be exposed to those businesses when they stopped by Fuzziwig's Candy Factory.
From a market perspective, it seems marijuana businesses would be more interested in locations that are more affordable and that offer better parking and discretion to customers than downtown or the ski area. That said, it's not something that should be automatically ruled out.
The conditional use process ensures that any marijuana business wanting to locate in any zone would have to go through a public hearing process. That gives neighboring business owners and residents the opportunity to make their case against proposed marijuana businesses. It's a process that gives the city the opportunity to decide, on a case-by-case basis, if a marijuana business is right for the location it seeks. Such an approach has served the city well in zoning liquor stores; there's no reason it can't work well for marijuana shops.
Residents have spoken time and again about this issue. Zoning marijuana businesses out of downtown and the ski area simply is not necessary. We urge the council to amend its marijuana policies accordingly.