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Local educators pan possible pot ordinance changes

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Distance from schools an issue

By John Colson

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Sopris Sun Correspondent

Carbondale’s elected leaders agreed on Tuesday, at least in principle, to hold off on shrinking the allowable distance between local cannabis businesses and various educational or counseling facilities around town.

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Because the conclusion was reached during an informal work session, it is not yet cast in the bureaucratic equivalent of concrete, as formal and legal decisions cannot be made during such sessions.

The trustees arrived at their conclusion after some of the trustees and two local educators — Roaring Fork School District assistant superintendent Rob Stein and Carbondale Community School Principal Tom Penzel — panned the idea of allowing pot shops to be located closer to schools, daycare centers, drug rehabilitation centers and other facilities than current law allows.

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The idea had come up as a way to spread cannabis-related businesses around town, as opposed to the concentration of such businesses in certain areas because so much of the town is too close to a school or other protected facility.

“We have developing minds” at the schools, Stein told the trustees, adding that students are “a vulnerable population” that must be protected from the attractions of the local cannabis culture.

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“It’s clearly documented that it’s not a safe substance for them,” Stein declared, though he said the school district has no objection to laws that “maximize liberty for adults, and promote commerce” with regard to Colorado’s experiment in legalization of marijuana.

“Kids are just really confused,” added Penzel. “They’re getting all these mixed messages” such as laws allowing high school seniors to use medical marijuana, where recreational pot is off limits to everyone under 21 years old, and the conflicts between the federal prohibition against pot and the state’s laws permitting its use.

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Trustee Allyn Harvey argued strongly against shrinking the distance between pot shops and substance-abuse rehab centers, maintaining that such an action would “undermine” the mission of Carbondale’s much-praised Jaywalker Lodge rehab center by making it harder for the facility to market itself as “a safe place” for recovering addicts to live and change.

Turning to the issue of odor complaints from neighbors of cannabis businesses, the trustees directed the town staff to come up with better controls for the odors drifting out of local sales outlets and other cannabis establishments, and a proposed new law to expand the required distance between cannabis cultivation facilities (colloquially known as “grows”) as a way of dispersing the concentrated odor from those businesses.

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“That’s where we see the complaints,” said Town Manager Jay Harrington, explaining that having cultivation operations clustered close to each other ensures that odors will be a problem in that neighborhood.

Town Clerk Cathy Derby, whose job includes overseeing cannabis businesses and inspecting them during the licensing process, cautioned the trustees that cultivation operations nearly always generate some level of odor.

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“It’s always going to smell somewhat,” she said, “no matter how often they change their filters,” referring to the use of filters on the air-exhaust systems to keep the odors inside the establishments.

She said that the odor can be kept to a minimum, meaning that it will be “noticeable” without being “offensive” to the neighbors.

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Currently, according to the town, there are no distance requirements for separating cultivation operations.

On top of agreeing to combat the odor issue, the trustees gave an informal nod to the idea of putting town resources, specifically the “educational” fees attached to the cannabis-shop licensing process, to work educating local youth about the risks of smoking pot at a young age.

In addition, a town ordinance that sets limits on the number of certain types of cannabis businesses in town is due to expire on July 1, and the town’s trustees are working on extending that “cap” for another two years, to July 1, 2017.

The trustees also are hoping to adopt a new ordinance prohibiting the manufacture of “hash oil,” a marijuana concentrate, using a controversial and dangerous method involving butane fuel as the distilling agent, among other changes to the laws governing cannabis businesses in the community.

Some of the proposed changes to the cannabis regulations will go before the planning and zoning commission, while others can be decided solely by the board of trustees.