Retail pot looks probable

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Littleton will be one of just a few south-metro cities to allow retail marijuana sales starting Jan. 1 if council keeps heading the direction it set out on July 9.

It was a study session, so no official action could be taken. But five of the seven councilors agreed in theory that Littleton should lift its moratorium on retail sales on Oct. 1, when the state will start accepting applications. Mayor Debbie Brinkman, who led the city’s charge against synthetic marijuana two years ago, and Councilor Bruce Beckman, a retired police commander, were opposed.

However, medical marijuana patients younger than 21 might have to leave city limits to fill their prescriptions. Council seems to be leaning toward letting existing dispensaries operate retail outlets inside their current facilities rather than requiring them to have separate licenses and distinct entrances. However, state law forbids anyone younger than 21 from entering a retail marijuana store.

Littleton’s law limits the number of dispensaries to four, and staff recommends expanding that to mean no more than four marijuana-related businesses. So if all four dispensaries choose to add retail to their operations, patients 21 and younger with MMJ cards will have to look elsewhere.

Only Councilor Jim Taylor was opposed, saying he’d prefer separating retail and MMJ facilities so 18-year-old patients can continue to obtain their medicine legally in the city.

“I’ve got this feeling they can still medicate somewhere,” countered Councilor Jerry Valdes.

The owners of CannaMart dispensary, one of four in the city, have indicated they will apply for a retail license. The store is moving from Arapahoe Road and Broadway to 1080 W. Littleton Blvd., and building out the space to conform to all state and local requirements.

“Our plan would be to stay on top of the game,” Stan Zislis said in March.

Zislis said business has grown every year. Since opening in 2009, they’ve paid more than $1.2 million in wages and more than $107,000 to the city in sales tax.

Overall, city staff recommends changing as little as possible once retail sales begin.

“The city has experience dealing with the impacts of having marijuana at the current locations,” they write in a memo to council. “Adding retail to the existing medical marijuana should not remarkably change those impacts.”

Kristen Schledorn, deputy city attorney, advised council to impose regulations on retailers similar to ones already in place for dispensaries, including requiring them to gain approval from the city’s licensing authority.

“It would maximize local control over this,” she said.

There was some back-and-forth over things like whether to limit how many people can be in a store at once and how securely the product should be contained.

“It is good for us to be cautious,” said Brinkman. “It is good for us to have maybe a higher bar for marijuana.”

“These are business people,” said Valdes. “They need to make a profit. They’re not going to let people in the store who are going to steal from them.” He noted that convenience stores and liquor stores often set their own rules to limit shoplifting.

“A six-pack of beer has a completely different effect on somebody than two ounces of pot,” said Brinkman. “I’m not a doctor, but I think I can safely say that.”

Whatever regulations council ultimately approves will face a public hearing before the final vote, not yet scheduled. But on July 30, council will hear on first reading an ordinance to send a marijuana-tax question to the voters.