City decides to delay any marijuana decision until feds clear up their stances

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AURORA | City officials will be weeding through information in the coming weeks before they make any decisions about how to implement the new state marijuana law within city limits.

They talked about the work ahead of them at an Aurora City Council Public Safety Committee on Nov. 14.

“We’re still at a point where we have more questions than we have answers,” said City Manger George “Skip” Noe.

The consensus was to hold off on making any decisions until federal attorneys decide on their course of action, since marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Amendment 64, which passed Nov. 6, legalizes up to 1 oz. of marijuana for recreational use for people over the age of 21, and also allows anyone over that age to grow up to six plants in their home. The amendment won’t be certified by the governor until mid-December after a canvassing process, Noe said. The state Legislature has to then adopt regulations for marijuana retail establishments by July 1, 2013, and by that date, Aurora has to decide whether ban the commercial sale of marijuana within its city limits.

However, officials from the Colorado Municipal League say they think the process will be put on hold because federal attorneys will step in with a lawsuit, Noe said.

A subcommittee composed of city staff including city attorneys, code enforcement officers and planning and finance officials will now work on drafting different options for council members to review in the coming months.

“We have a number of ordinances in place throughout the city code that deal with the issue of legality of marijuana and paraphernalia, all of which would have to be examined,” Noe said.

City officials at the committee meeting voiced concerns about the provision in Amendment 64 that allows people to grow marijuana in their homes.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said there were “all sorts of safety issues” associated with growing marijuana in a home, which city officials regulated in 2010.

“Those issues don’t go away no matter what we do here,” he said. “It’s likely that there will be more growing of marijuana in residences.”

Currently, four Aurora Police officers are assigned to work full-time on home-grow compliance issues, and a new marijuana grow sprouts up between one and three times per week, he said.

“It’s a big production and requires a lot of extra energy and immediately implicates all safety and electrical codes,” Oates said.

Among the marijuana issues that the city has to tackle in the coming months are: Should the city amend or repeal ordinances that prohibit possession of marijuana? Should the city amend or repeal the current ordinance regarding sale or possession of marijuana paraphernalia? Should the city amend ordinances regulating growing marijuana in a private residence? And finally, should the city’s employment policies be amended?

Voters in Arapahoe County approved Amendment 64 by a margin of about 17,000 votes. About 142,300 people voted to approve the amendment. The amendment passed by about 22,000 votes in Adams County with about 95,000 people voting for it.

Council members could ask voters in Aurora whether they want to opt out of the commercial sale of marijuana, similar to the city-wide ballot question they posed to voters in 2010 about banning medical marijuana dispensaries. In 2010, a majority of Aurora voters opposed a city-wide ballot question to legalize medical marijuana sales within city limits. The final tallies for Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties show that voters in Aurora decided to prohibit dispensaries within city limits by a margin of 42,347 to 39,224.

Aurora council members are still unsure what to make of the passage of Amendment 64.

“Obviously, this puts Aurora in a somewhat awkward position, stuck between a popular vote of the people of the state and the views of the federal government on the issue, and the opinions of the people I represent,” said Councilman Bob Roth last week. “Until I have had the chance to review all the information, I don’t have an opinion on opting in or out.”

 

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]