Water for marijuana operations within Pueblo city limits will be available as long as the feds remain lukewarm on enforcement, but the Pueblo Board of Water Works wants more time to think about supplying other Pueblo County operations. The board Tuesday approved a resolution to provide water from its non-federal sources to growers within city limits, provided that federal laws do not become more restrictive. The choice to make water available within city limits was unanimous, even though some board members are not fans of legal marijuana.
“Colorado and the city have legalized it, so it makes it tough for us to say, ‘No, you won’t have access to water,’ ” said board member Nick Gradisar.
Gradisar explained that federal enforcement under the current administration is deferential to Colorado and Washington laws on recreational marijuana, although the Department of Justice could crack down on marijuana operations if certain priorities such as organized crime involvement or weapons are violated.
The rest of the board joined him with varying levels of enthusiasm.
Jim Gardner supported the resolution wholeheartedly, comparing society’s attitudes toward marijuana with the prohibition of alcohol in the 1900s.
“These are things that are going to happen in our culture,” Gardner said.
Tom Autobee said the state has not done enough to regulate marijuana, and the city needs to treat marijuana like liquor licenses, taking neighborhood concerns into consideration. He supported the resolution “with reservations.” “This is a social experiment and I would ask people to use marijuana responsibly,” Autobee said.
Kevin McCarthy said the will of voters comes first, but was also uncertain about marijuana use in general.
“While I am uneasy about where this is going, there are sufficient protections in this ordinance,” McCarthy said.
Board President Mike Cafasso also had misgivings about marijuana, but saw the need to support city and state laws.
“This is not an easy decision for me,” Cafasso said. “I’m not a fan. I don’t believe it’s good for Colorado; it’s not good for our county; and it’s certainly not good for Pueblo,” Cafasso said.
A second ordinance that would allow the Pueblo water board to sell 800 acre-feet (260 million gallons) of raw water annually at top dollar (about $500,000 at 2014 rates) was tabled. That water most likely would be used for well augmentation. The water board has received about three serious inquiries about such water, according to Executive Director Terry Book. Initially, the board defeated the ordinance on a 3-2 vote.
Gardner and Gradisar voted for it, while the other three members wanted to table it, pointing out that there is no obligation under the city charter to make water available for marijuana.
“We have to be careful about making a judgment about who we will sell water to,” Gradisar said, pointing out that some would argue against selling water to coal-fired power plants.
“This is going to be an economic boon to Pueblo County.”
Cafasso convinced the others that it should not be a dead issue, but that staff needed to talk to other water providers to determine how the issue is being handled. So the board voted 5-0 to reconsider a similar resolution in 60 days.
“Let’s make sure before we parachute off the cliff we know where we are going to land,” McCarthy said.