Ignacio town trustees have reaffirmed a ban on any marijuana businesses in town.
Trustees listened to a presentation on Oct. 19 from Josh and Heather Abrell, who hoped to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in town, about the potential financial benefits to the town. But then trustees voted 5-1 to maintain the existing ban on any marijuana businesses. Tom Atencio cast the no vote. He wanted to put it to a community vote.
Unlike the board's Oct. 5 meeting, only one community member showed up for this agenda item and did not comment.
Mayor Stella Cox started the discussion. "I just have one comment. What kind of quality of life do we want in our community? We want to be drug free. To me, no means no."
Atencio countered, "You can say it's drug free, but look behind the door. It's not drug free." He asserted that some middle school students are getting marijuana from their parents. "It's here. It's a revenue, a benefit," he said.
Trustee Lawrence Bartley, a staunch opponent of marijuana businesses in town, said the revenue would go to increased law enforcement costs "to keep up with all the extra-curricular crap."
Bartley and Atencio disagreed on whether Ignacio is restricted by marijuana still being illegal under federal law.
"You aren't going to stop it," Atencio said.
Trustee Alison deKay commented, "I see the monetary benefit, but not everything is worth the money. To me it's more a statement of our leadership. Maybe it sends a message to kids who aren't getting (the anti-drug message) at home."
Speaking of medical marijuana, Atencio said there are benefits other than the money.
"You have 20 minutes to go to Durango and get it," Cox said.
"Why should I have to go to Durango?" Atencio responded. "You say shop locally. ... I'm not for recreational. Medical is a benefit."
Town attorney David Liberman has worked with Mancos on their ordinances for marijuana businesses. Voters there approved a per transaction fee on sales of recreational marijuana, he said. Mancos pretty much used Denver's regulatory ordinances, tailored for a small town, he said.
"Ignacio is an interesting place in terms of jurisdiction, probably different from any place in Colorado except Towaoc," Liberman said. He didn't give a more definitive opinion on the federal jurisdiction issue.
Trustee Dixie Melton asked if a tribal member would be able to buy marijuana in town if there were a marijuana business, and, "Would it be tax exempt?" Over town objections, the Colorado Department of Revenue has determined that enrolled tribal members don't have to pay sales tax on purchases in town because of a state law passed in 2014 intended to clarify a 1984 federal law. The town has argued that neither was intended to exempt tribal members from sales tax on any purchases in town.
The Abrells presented statics about the millions of dollars of tax revenue the state is taking in from marijuana sales, especially recreational, with 15 percent going to the towns where the businesses are located.
They had hoped to have a medical dispensary in Ignacio and a cultivation facility within the 3 mile exclusion zone approved by the county for marijuana businesses. A similar exclusion zone exists around Bayfield. Abrell said he is looking at locating his business in Bayfield, which also bans marijuana businesses in town, Vallecito, or Pagosa. The Abrells operate a landscaping business and nursery in Pagosa.
In other board action on Oct. 19, discussion continued on the draft 2017 budget, including proposed pay raises for staff and the increasing cost of providing employee health insurance.
Treasurer Diana Briar advised that the general operations budget should finish this year with a fund balance of $387,158 if her estimates are correct, up from $256,282 at the end of 2015.
But interim Town Manager Mark Garcia reminded trustees that the water and sewer funds are operating at a deficit this year, as is the irrigation fund. "We'll come to you with a rate increase on irrigation," he said. "We're easily $2 a month low just to break even on irrigation."
Trustees have yet to decide whether to pass water and sewer rate increases from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on to town customers. The rate increases from the tribe took effect this month.