Recreational marijuana on display at a Denver shop. (Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Lyons cancels vote on recreational pot ban, but moratorium possible

After operating for months under the assumption that a March 24 special election in Lyons would include a measure seeking to ban recreational pot businesses, the town board voted Tuesday night to remove the ballot item altogether, citing insurmountable legal hurdles that would accompany such a vote.

But the board has agreed to mull a moratorium on recreational pot, which could provoke even more controversy than the botched ballot measure has.

Tuesday’s proceedings didn’t exactly come by surprise; the town’s hand was somewhat forced by Colorado’s constitution, which states that any “initiated or referred” local measure regarding marijuana governance must be voted upon in November of an even-numbered year.

Mayor John O’Brien said Tuesday that, given the language of Amendment 64, which legalized and set policy for retail pot in Colorado, there was “one action and one action only” left for the board to take. He had hinted at that last week, telling the Camera on Thursday: “We know what Amendment 64 says, and we’re bound by that.”

Lyons leaders, including Town Attorney Tim Cox and the entire Board of Trustees, claim the amendment’s language was news to them until earlier this month.

At the Feb. 10 town board meeting, Cox apologized for the oversight, and the trustees agreed to move forward with one of a few options: Cancel the vote altogether; keep the ballot measure and subject the town to a lawsuit it would almost surely lose; or enforce a ban through a board-approved ordinance or moratorium.

Instead of deciding Feb. 10, the board agreed to hold off for a week and take public comment. During the comment segment of Tuesday’s meeting, roughly a dozen people — mostly parents and teachers — encouraged the board to enact a moratorium on approving new retail marijuana businesses until November 2016.

Those who spoke in favor of a moratorium raised a series of concerns, mainly surrounding the potential impact retail pot shops could have on children, and on the town’s image.

Karen Wilson, a retired pediatrician, told the board that pot is “worse than cigarettes.”

“I think there’s plenty of proof that the adolescent on marijuana is a whole different person,” she said. “Minors, seeing by role-modeling, take a lot in. They learn from us, and they learn how to make decisions in public.”

Among the few who spoke against a moratorium were a marijuana lobbyist representing a Lyons dispensary, and Ed Bruder, a former town trustee who said he alerted town officials, including Town Clerk Deb Anthony, to the ballot measure’s illegality long before last week’s announcement.

“This mess could have been avoided,” Bruder said. “For you guys to say you didn’t know it was there, for the town attorney to apologize he didn’t know it was there … . I know for a fact it was mentioned to the town clerk back in June that this matter couldn’t go to a town election.”

Map: Colorado recreational marijuana shops and medical dispensaries

After 45 minutes of public input, O’Brien wasted no time bringing forth a motion to remove the retail pot question from the March ballot. It passed unanimously.

Mayor Pro Tem Connie Sullivan followed that vote with a motion to discuss, at a meeting in the near future, an ordinance for a moratorium on new recreational pot businesses until the next general election.

“How do we acknowledge the fact that our citizens have exercised their rights?” Sullivan said of the roughly 200 people who originally signed the petition for the now-canceled ballot measure.

Sullivan also noted that the town has not yet firmed up its zoning code, among other regulations, for retail pot businesses.

“I do think it’s more appropriate to put a moratorium in place and say we should put things on hold,” she said. “We haven’t done all the work we need to do yet, and I do think we have a risk about getting something we don’t want.”

Board member LaVern Johnson seconded Sullivan’s motion and supported the anti-retail comments made in public input.

“These teachers and coaches,” she said, “they see the kids, they know they’re in trouble. The least we could do would be a moratorium, then allow them to vote.”

Trustee Jim Kerr called that logic “problematic,” and O’Brien said it was “absolutely ludicrous,” citing the 21-and-older laws that pot shops are required to follow.

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