ELKO — Elko City Council will be working again to block marijuana shops in Elko via the zoning path, despite the Elko Planning Commission’s recommendation that the council deny a proposed ordinance amendment in part because regulations on business licenses cover pot prohibition.
After hearing the pros and cons, and Councilman John Patrick Rice’s strong comments against any action to prohibit medical and recreational marijuana businesses, the council voted Tuesday evening to bring the proposed amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance back for first reading.
Rice, who was the only one to vote against coming back with the ordinance, chastised the council, stating that “we aspire to be a non-intrusive government,” rather than regulating citizens’ use of marijuana and worrying about the mining industry’s strong policies against drug use.
“The mines are fully capable of managing cannabis themselves,” Rice said.
Councilman Reece Keener said he was “firm in my position” that allowing marijuana businesses in the city would be “very mining negative,” and the city should do what it can to promote the mining industry. He also said he supports law enforcement’s opposition to marijuana sales in Elko.
The Elko Planning Commission voted 4-3 in December to reject the proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance that would prohibit marijuana shops, partly because the commission felt the city’s regulations for business licenses covers the issue. The council had referred the amendment to the planners.
City Planner Cathy Laughlin said the city can’t issue business licenses to any business that would break federal law, so the commission felt there was “no need” to amend the zoning ordinance. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, although legal in Nevada.
Elko Police Chief Ben Reed reiterated what he has said at earlier meetings on marijuana that he opposes allowing marijuana shops in the city, and he urged the council to go ahead with amending the zoning ordinance.
He said the amendment would give the city a “stronger position” besides relying on the provision on business licenses.
Rice said he was concerned about the zoning ordinance targeting specific businesses.
“I think you are hiding behind the ordinance,” he said.
Councilman Robert Schmidtlein proposed bringing back the proposed amendment for consideration to block marijuana shops.
He said Nevada law allows people to grow their own marijuana and smoke it in their own homes so “if people want to use it in their households, so be it.”
Mike Magney of the PACE Coalition reiterated his opposition to businesses in Elko selling marijuana, citing reports about marijuana use hurting tourism and convention growth in Denver, where marijuana is sold.
“We are a tourist state, and Elko relies on tourism as well as other industries,” he told the council.
Sean Fericks said during public comment that Nevada is known for its freedoms, and he opposed the zoning amendment. He also said imposing morality on others means those using medical marijuana have to drive to Ely, Reno or Las Vegas.
“It’s not up to the city council to tell me what to put in my body,” he said.
Mayor Chris Johnson said he has heard from many people opposed to allowing marijuana shops in the city.