As Colorado Moves Toward Legal Pot Shops, More Than 100 Localities Ban Or Delay Sales

Last week, the small town of Norwood, Colo., joined more than 100 other cities and towns in the state that have banned marijuana sales or imposed a moratorium, as the state implements a legalized recreational pot market. Norwood residents voted in favor of the November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana 150 to 94. But the City Council nonetheless voted not to let pot shops in — wary of being among the first to enter uncharted territory.

Same goes for Colorado Springs, the state’s second-largest city. Even though the city has had medical marijuana dispensaries for years, and residents strongly supported Amendment 64, the council voted 5–4 to opt out of the law, dealing a major disappointment to legalization advocates, who worry that the spate of bans could undercut the law’s purpose in pushing out the black market.

In fact, of the ten largest Colorado cities, only Denver is expected to allow marijuana dispensaries by the January 1, 2014 roll-out of retail marijuana shops. Even Denver, which has long had a thriving medical marijuana community, will only permit licensed medical marijuana businesses to apply for recreational licenses for the first two years. In January 2016, it may entertain other new applications for dispensaries.


Colorado’s law legalizing and regulating marijuana contains a provision allowing local jurisdictions to opt out of the retail business. This means they may prohibit retail dispensaries, growers, producers, and marijuana testing facilities. The state law provisions allowing personal possession and growth of six marijuana plants for personal use, however, remain in effect. Those individuals will simply have to go to other places to purchase that marijuana or the seeds to grow their own plants. Localities must decide whether they will go “dry” by October 1.

Some of the moratoria are very temporary. In Aurora, for example, the city council delayed sales until May to give them more time to devise regulations. But if localities stick to the bans or extend moratoriums, the existence of “dry” regions in the state may complicate the legalization experiment. The bans now in place will leave some individuals hours from a retail shop, according to Time, making it unlikely that they will turn to legalized dispensaries.

Unlike Colorado, Washington’s law does not have a provision explicitly allowing localities to opt out of the state law. Some cities are nonetheless considering moratoriums, unsure of the legality of doing so. In states with medical marijuana laws, varying regimes have emerged A California court upheld local bans, which have proliferated the state. But Massachusetts’ attorney general explicitly held that local bans are a violation of the state marijuana law.

Denver officials also worry that too many bans will increase its regulatory burden, with federal officials keeping a close eye on whether the state has a “strong and effective regulatory system.” But some smaller cities are viewing the widespread bans as a boon for their economy, bringing in a source of revenue from other cities and counties. “Every time one of our neighbors bans it, we cheer,” Puebo County Commissioner Sal Pace told the Denver Post.