Aurora looks to change marijuana ordinance to enforce stricter reporting

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AURORA | Proponents for legalizing marijuana often claimed the substance should be treated like alcohol. Now, an update to Aurora’s pot regulations is getting another look to make sure marijuana businesses are held to a similar standard as the city’s liquor stores.

Nearly two years into allowing recreational marijuana stores to open for business, Aurora City Council members say requirements for when marijuana businesses should have to report a criminal incident are too different from what is required of liquor stores. 

The language in the city’s ordinance states that marijuana applicants or licensees have to report criminal charges, such as felonies and misdemeanors, to the city’s enforcement division “related to the cultivation, processing, manufacture, storage, sale, distribution, testing or consumption of any form of marijuana.”

“If this is restricted to marijuana, it’s much more narrow than what we make our liquor stores report. I have a problem with that,” said Aurora Ward IV City Councilman Charlie Richardson at a Monday, May 9, study session.

Aurora City Attorney Mike Hyman said under the city’s liquor code, the only time an applicant or a licensee is required to report an incident to the liquor board is if there’s a felony conviction or a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude. He called the moral turpitude statement “bizarre” but said there was case law behind that definition. 

He said city staff could make it clear that marijuana business owners are subject to reporting all past felonies — not just those related to pot. 

“You want to know if an applicant has been convicted of an armed robbery or something like that,” Hyman said. 

Aurora At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare said broadening the reporting requirement could become burdensome for store owners.

“If they have their weeds get over nine inches, they get a citation — are you intending for that?” he asked.

Ward V Councilman Bob Roth, who served on the committee that drafted the rules for the city’s recreational marijuana businesses, said the committee’s intent was to go above and beyond state requirements, which make marijuana store applicants list any felony convictions related to marijuana.

Near the end of the discussion, Aurora Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor said the Aurora Marijuana Enforcement Division also wanted to clarify the city’s policy that cultivation facilities may not locate within 300 feet of residential zone districts or existing residential use or open zone districts. He said the enforcement division wanted to add government-owned parks, recreational areas and open space to be included in that buffer.

Batchelor said he believes all existing pot shops would be in compliance if the measure passes.

As part of the housekeeping measures for Aurora’s marijuana laws, city officials are also looking to allow for the testing of medical marijuana in retail facilities to detect potential pesticides despite medical marijuana sales not being allowed in Aurora.

Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill requiring the same safety testing for pesticides for medical pot as there is for recreational.

Under requirements the city is drafting for the new licenses, a business would not need a public hearing to receive the license. City officials say obtaining the new license would be similar to a liquor license hearing. The measure also would change the city’s policy so that all employees — not just store employees — would have to get fingerprinted by the Aurora Marijuana Enforcement Division.

The city is currently accepting applications for retail marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and testing establishments, and there is no limit to how many licenses the city can issue. For retail marijuana stores, the city has awarded 23 of the 24 it made available as part of the recreational marijuana measures it passed before stores opened in 2014.

Aurora’s Marijuana Enforcement Division is looking to get the measures approved before July 1, and is also set to bring the medical testing issue back to Aurora City Council’s May 17 session.