Colorado blazed a trail — literally — when it became one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012.
But the implementation of that measure didn’t happen overnight as a number of municipalities throughout the state began grappling with what legalization would mean and how to go about it.
Among those officials that had to navigate legalization was then-Frisco Town Manager Bill Efting. Nearly a decade later, South Dakota municipalities are grappling with the same questions after the dual passage of Amendment A (recreational) and Initiated Measure 26 (medicinal) last fall, and he is lending a hand to Yankton.
During a Yankton City Commission work session next Monday, Efting will be offering his advice on how to navigate the path to legalization, even as the future of both measures remains a bit hazy.
This week, Efting spoke with the Press & Dakotan about his experiences in Colorado and previewed what he intends to speak with the commission about.
A graduate of the University of South Dakota, Efting spent nearly 30 years in municipal government, starting with a short stint as the recreation director with the City of Vermillion before moving to Colorado in 1984 where he’d serve in various positions in Aspen, Vail, Basalt, Dacono and Frisco.
It was while serving in Frisco in 2012 that Colorado passed Amendment 64, which allowed recreational marijuana. Medicinal marijuana had been legal in some form since the early 2000s.
Efting said sales of recreational marijuana weren’t to begin for a couple of years, but they used the fleeting time to strategize.
“Much like Yankton, we’d been working with the Colorado Municipal League in preparation for probably a year and a half to two years before the actual sales started,” he said. “The time really goes quickly. Colorado’s one of the first states in the country to pass it, so there wasn’t much to go off of, so we really relied on the Colorado Municipal League.”
He characterized the legalization process as a learning experience that still continues almost a decade after the passage of Amendment 64.
“Even today in Colorado, they’re still learning new things about marijuana,” he said. “One example — we didn’t think about drive-thru marijuana dispensaries back when we were doing our regulations. There’s some of those in Colorado now. There’s also things like they’re still trying to get marijuana clubs off the ground, and I believe one might be opening this year in Colorado.”
Efting said that there are a number of questions that Yankton will need to ask itself, much in line with what towns throughout his state faced during the legalization process.
After retiring four years ago, Efting said it wasn’t long before his experience was being called upon in another state that was just getting its bearings in the push for legalization.
“One of my first jobs was to go out to the state of Maine and talk to their city managers’ association,” he said. “They had just passed it. … We had a police chief on the panel, medical people and it was brand new for them. We went over pretty much the same things I’ve been talking to the staff about and that I’m going to talk to the (Yankton) City Commission about on Monday night.”
He said that he’s spoken with a number of other towns throughout Colorado as they considered their own statute changes.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
With South Dakota’s Amendment A in legal limbo, legislation aimed at replicating it facing stiff opposition from Gov. Kristi Noem, and other officials attempting to delay the implementation of Initiated Measure 26 to 2022, Yankton will have some time to consider a number of items.
Efting said that will include whether the town allows it at all.
“The question the commission will be facing is, ‘Are they going to allow it in Yankton?’” he said. “My job is to give them the facts and my experience on what works and what doesn’t work.”
He said there are many other discussion points that must be covered.
“If they do legalize it, one of the things you’ve got to really study is how many dispensaries do you want in your municipality,” he said. “There are towns in Colorado that didn’t put a limit on them. … One big question in the resort communities of Colorado is, most of them have quaint little downtowns: ‘Did you want marijuana sales on main street?’ All good questions that you need to talk about.”
Previewing Monday evening, Efting said he has a range of issues he’ll address.
“We’re going to give a little bit of a background of how it started in Colorado and talk about things like impact on ‘main street’ or commercial areas — immediate and long term —number of retail establishments, challenges for law enforcement,” he said. “Your own personnel manual for the City of Yankton will have to be updated, as will probably any town in South Dakota.”
He added social impacts will also be discussed.
“One of the things Colorado did is, we did a good job of working with the youth organizations and that type of thing and working with law enforcement,” he said. “They’re also going to need a bunch of ordinances once the state of South Dakota comes up with the guidelines.”
No official action will be taken during Monday’s work session.
Following the work session at the City Commission’s regular meeting, the board will hold the second reading of an extension of the current masking mandate. The board will also discuss alcohol sales on Christmas Day, a land transfer to the National Park Service and a Community Development Block Grant proposal for Pathways Shelter for the Homeless.
The commission meets at 6 p.m. at RTEC for the work session with the regular session following at 7 p.m. Capacity in the commission room is limited due to social distancing protocol and, being a Yankton School District property, a mask is required inside the building.
Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.