Marijuana businesses debated in Ignacio, Bayfield

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 11:46 PM

Marijuana issues are cropping up for Bayfield and Ignacio town trustees.

On Sept. 20, Bayfield trustees opted not to seek any change in the county's ban on any marijuana-related businesses within three miles of town.

There is a similar three mile exclusion around Ignacio, but on Sept. 21, trustees there focused on the in-town ban on marijuana businesses. With the town's sales tax revenue facing uncertainty from a sales tax exemption for enrolled Southern Ute Tribal members, some trustees expressed interest in reconsidering the ban on marijuana businesses in town.

They will take public comment on Oct. 5 on the marijuana business ban and the draft 2017 budget. That meeting will start at 6:15 p.m.

The three mile and in-town bans are for both medical and recreational marijuana businesses, including sales outlets, cultivation, testing, and infused product manufacturing.

Ignacio Interim Town Manager Mark Garcia told trustees that he and Development Director Dan Naiman have talked with people who want to bring marijuana sales to town. "We thought we'd bring it back (to trustees) for further discussion. If there's no support, we don't have to take this any further."

Trustee Lawrence Bartley was totally opposed to changing the in-town ban. Trustee Edward Box III countered, "At this point, we need to look at different avenues for revenue." He cited the tribal member sales tax exemption.

Trustee Tom Atencio agreed.

Naiman said the town ordinance banning marijuana businesses only covers the town itself. "My understanding is the three mile area of influence, if someone wants to do something, we have to be included in the discussion. ... The people who approached the town are looking to do a grow facility within the three mile area."

Police Chief Kirk Phillips said, "Right now I wouldn't be in favor of (commercial sales in town), but I understand that we have limited revenue sources."

Garcia proposed a committee to look at marijuana ordinances in other towns and at revenue projections, and maybe come back with a recommendation for trustees.

An ordinance could require annual renewal, it could limit the number of licenses for marijuana businesses, or identify areas where they would be allowed, Garcia said. The town could impose additional sales tax on top of regular town sales tax, with voter approval.

Trustee Dixie Melton said, "We're here to represent the people. I'd like to hear from them."

Mayor Pro Tem Alison deKay said Ignacio voters rejected by a small margin the state amendment legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. If it's allowed in town, she said, "I feel we'd become that border town because we're close to New Mexico. I don't know if we want that kind of traffic."

Atencio countered, "It's here, like it or not. Just like beer and liquor. Why not make a benefit out of it?" He asked, if the town were to allow it, would it be just medical marijuana, or also recreational?

The town has quite a few medical marijuana card holders, although IPD doesn't know how many, Phillips said. "It's legal for someone to deliver medical marijuana to someone in town. Each (adult) individual can grow six plants on their property. There are people growing it in their back yards now. Numerous places in town. It's perfectly legal."

Josh Abrell with Thrive LLC told Ignacio trustees, "We'd like the opportunity to come in and show you some ideas and numbers, what we could provide to the town." He and wife Heather are seeking a town variance for a medical marijuana dispensary and possibly a recreational outlet as well.

"I'd like to be in the town," he said. "There are several locations available... There's a property approximately 2.9 miles from Ignacio that we're looking at for cultivation. It could employ 30 to 40 people at build-out." He wants to make presentation about the proposed business at the Oct. 5 meeting.

"I've been in the industry for many years, especially medical," he said. "I want to see how the retail (recreational) will play out in general. There haven't been any real negative effects. The revenue is very beneficial. We're approaching Ignacio and Bayfield."

Bayfied trustees only discussed the three-mile ban.

Town Manager Chris La May said, "Staff has looked into the issue. My recommendation is once we open this door, there's no way to shut it. With a preponderence of caution, let's wait a bit."

Trustee Michelle Nelson Yost commented, "The future development of the town is why we have the three mile radius. We'd be limiting our town from growth if we lift this. There are tons of areas in the county that are open to this."

Trustee J.J. Sanders agreed. "I don't know why we're back at this thing again," he said.

Trustee Kelly Polites said, "I feel like we shouldn't close the door on it, that we would lose tax dollars."

Trustee Matt Nyberg said, "I'm not against looking at it, but maybe not now. Maybe down the line."

Mayor Matt Salka said, "For me, it's county. It's not our jurisdiction. Who are we to tell people (outside town limits) what they can or can't do? The issue for me is future growth. If we're going to do this (support an end to the three mile ban), we might as well drop (the ban) in town as well." But he worries about the amount of town staff time that would take.

"I need the town to step up and let the board know how they feel," Salka said. "I'm not against it, but not at this moment."

In his written staff report, La May said trustees approved a ban on recreational marijuana businesses in town in August 2013. They had previously banned medical marijuana businesses. In December 2013, trustees voted 4-2 for a resolution asking the county to ban marijuana businesses within three miles of the town boundaries.

In June 2014, the county commissioners adopted marijuana regulations, including the three-mile exclusion around Bayfield and Ignacio.

La May said Abrell requested town trustees to rescind their December 2013 resolution.