Thornton’s marijuana sales regulations permit one stand-alone recreational store or one dual recreational-medical dispensary per “quadrant” of the city. Pictured: Marijuana on display at Colorado pot shop High Country Healing. (Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post file)

Colorado’s sixth-largest city says yes to pot sales

Thornton council members heard an earful from residents opposed to retail marijuana shops, some saying it would send a bad message to kids and lead to more pot use in schools

THORNTON — The state’s largest city with an all-out ban on marijuana sales decided Tuesday to allow the nascent industry, but not before hearing an earful from members of the community.

The Thornton City Council voted 5-4 to allow retail marijuana shops — capped at a total of four citywide — to open in this northern suburb of 135,000. The city, the sixth-largest in Colorado, will start accepting applications from would-be dispensary owners Sept. 1.

But plenty of people in packed council chambers took to the microphone to denounce the idea and urge civic leaders to vote “no.” Resident Gina Lanford said the issue should go to the ballot “instead of the council making this decision for us.”

Others said pot shops would send a bad message to kids and lead to more marijuana use in schools.

But several council members said the tax revenue from the proposed businesses are badly needed in Thornton. The city believes it will collect $1.5 million to $2.5 million a year on sales of pot.

Councilman Joshua Zygielbaum said Thornton lost out on the planned Ikea that is slated for Broomfield because it couldn’t offer the company a competitive incentive package. More cops are needed in the city, and marijuana dispensaries can help raise the tax money to pay for them, he said.

“Yes, part of it comes down to money,” he said. “We need to take care of our community.”

But several dozen residents have written letters and e-mails to the city pleading with council members not to pass the measures. Michele Gerbrandt, a 15-year Thornton resident, said in an interview that tax revenues shouldn’t be the main impetus for allowing the cannabis industry in the city.

“I don’t get motivated just because of money,” she said. “I don’t see anything positive that comes out of retail marijuana.”

The council also considered three resolutions dealing with licensing, violations and hearing procedures for would-be store owners and mulled putting a ballot measure on the November ballot asking voters to pass a 5 percent tax on the sales of cannabis in the city. Those issues hadn’t been addressed as of press time.

Thornton’s regulations permit one stand-alone recreational store or one dual recreational-medical dispensary per “quadrant” of the city. The stores would be permitted to operate between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Stores will have to be at least 1,000 feet from schools and no less than 500 feet from day care centers and drug treatment centers. The city would use a point system, much like Aurora does, to choose which applicants would get to open a store.

The regulations also pave the way for marijuana testing centers in Thornton but not cultivation facilities or infused-products manufacturers.

Thornton’s decision Tuesday allows it to join several other Adams County communities, including Federal Heights, Northglenn and the county itself in making the sale of cannabis, either recreational or medical, legal. A last-minute compromise of sorts was introduced Tuesday, when the council agreed through zoning changes to further limit the areas where a pot shop could open in the city.

But that didn’t satisfy the majority of those who showed up to City Hall on Tuesday. As evidence of how divisive the issue is in Thornton, the City Council approved a first reading of the measure by the same narrow 5-4 vote on Aug. 9. When asked during that meeting that supporters of the marijuana sales in the city stand up, 48 people stood up. One-hundred nine stood up in opposition.

Resident Rick Zetterman said making pot purchases easy by bringing them closer to Thornton’s residents is akin to bringing tempting, yet unhealthy, food into his kitchen.

“If I have a box of Oreos in my cupboard, I know I’m not supposed to,” he said. “But I’m gonna.”

This story was first published on DenverPost.com