Littleton City Council took another turn on the path that might or might not lead to retail sales of marijuana in the city, but on process this time rather than policy.
“I’m concerned about the process,” said Councilor Jerry Valdes. “We’ve been getting a little sloppy on some important issues.”
On Sept. 17, council heard what was originally billed as the second reading of an ordinance that would ban retail sales, which would have included a public hearing. But by meeting time, staff had changed it back to first reading, starting the process over.
This is the latest turn in what’s been a twisting road for this ordinance. During a study session Aug. 27, a slim majority of council — Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Stahlman and Councilors Peggy Cole, Jim Taylor and Valdes — indicated support for allowing the four existing medical-marijuana dispensaries to add a retail component if they wanted to.
Staff drafted an ordinance to that effect, which council heard on first reading Sept. 4 about 2:30 a.m., after the seven-hour meeting that saw the fall of the Broadstone apartment proposal. But Mayor Debbie Brinkman introduced a last-minute amendment to switch the language from allowing retail sales to banning them.
Stahlman reversed course that night, saying he wasn’t aware Littleton would be the only south-metro city to allow retail marijuana, even though that had come up during the study session.
“Frankly, that’s causing me to reconsider the whole thing,” he said.
Cole, Taylor and Valdes pressed to start the process over since the ordinance was substantially changed.
“Let’s have a public hearing,” said Taylor. “If you don’t like what the public says, then you can vote your conscience at that time.”
City Attorney Ken Fellman said that wasn’t necessary, since the portion of affected city code wasn’t changing.
“We may have the authority, but it’s just not the proper thing to do,” said Valdes.
At some point, staff came around to that way of thinking.
“Because council voted to revise the ordinance but did not set the date for a public hearing, staff has determined that Ordinance No. 18 was effectively rejected by council,” reads City Manager Michael Penny’s memo to council. “As such, staff is now presenting to council an ordinance on first reading.”
The new ordinance passed 4-3, with Cole, Taylor and Valdes against. It’s set for a public hearing and final vote on Oct. 1. If the vote stands, it also extends the current moratorium on marijuana clubs for another year.
“State legislation prohibits on-site consumption in licensed retail marijuana establishments, but the statutes enacted this year and the emergency rules adopted by the Department of Revenue are insufficient to effectively prohibit marijuana clubs,” reads Penny’s memo.
A separate ordinance introduced Sept. 17 would bring city code into compliance with Amendment 64, the state’s constitutional amendment that decriminalizes the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana for recreational use by adults. In describing the changes, Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens noted a situation they create that still needs to be resolved.
When officers arrest somebody who is legally in possession of pot on unrelated charges, they have to confiscate the marijuana because it can’t enter the jail. They can’t give it back to the person upon release, because that’s considered drug trafficking under federal law, said Stephens. However, there have been cases where departments have been successfully sued for not returning it.
“I hope you have a lot of training for your officers so they’ll be able to figure this mess out,” said Councilor Bruce Beckman, a retired LPD commander.