Bookmark and Share

BoCC ready to pass medical marijuana ordinance

In consecutive decisions Aug. 26, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners extended the county’s medical marijuana moratorium and approved the first reading of an ordinance that would repeal the moratorium and allow certain business operations in the unincorporated county.

The moratorium was set to expire Aug. 31, which would not allow the BoCC adequate time to meet noticing requirements for a second reading of the proposed ordinance; thus, the BoCC extended the moratorium until Dec. 31.

County Attorney Todd Starr introduced the ordinance, as well as changes made after the document was reviewed by a number of parties, including interested potential business owners should the ordinance go into effect.

Discussion by the general public began with Archuleta County Sheriff Pete Gonzalez informing the BoCC that it was a “great ordinance” that he was “completely opposed” to.

Gonzalez, the only one to speak against the ordinance on the day, called marijuana a “gateway drug” and cited that an “overwhelming majority” of medical marijuana users were in their 20s.

Gonzalez also stated that, if the decision of allowing medical marijuana operations in Archuleta County went to a vote, it would likely be defeated.

Bill Delaney, owner of Good Earth Meds, a medical marijuana business currently grandfathered despite the moratorium, stated that alcohol is more of a gateway drug than marijuana.

Gonzalez then retorted that while marijuana does help some, the availability already exists and that, perhaps, caregivers could request variances.

Resident John Voden asked how many centers would be allowed in Archuleta County under the proposed regulations, to which Starr informed that likely two or three would be allowed given the various requirements in the proposed regulations.

Stewart Prall, an attorney in Durango who has dealt with medical marijuana law since the Obama administration’s announcement in 2008 about lessening enforcement on marijuana, urged the BoCC to not ban commercial grow operations under the ordinance, but to instead regulate the growth of the plant, though he recognized the concern of the public in not knowing where the grow operations are located.

Prall continued on, stating that medical marijuana is a “beautiful new industry in the face” of the current economy, that it provides sales tax, and that he had seen it bring multiple family farms back from the brink of closure.

Jerry Harris, a self-identified patient, urged the BoCC to bring the medical marijuana industry into the light, noting he had previously had to obtain marijuana from “shady characters” as part of operations that may have been funding drug cartels.

Harris added that dispensaries are not selling to kids and that people who need the substance should not have to get it under the table. He also asked why the industry should not be taxed.

Commissioner John Ranson voiced his concerns over the ordinance, particularly with operations in residential areas (which would not be allowed under the regulations).

Ranson said that, while he respects those who use the substance for medical reasons, he is aware that it can be a problem with young people, making him “extremely torn” on the vote.

Ranson said the reason he tended to approve the ordinance was to move the operations out of residential areas (Delaney currently operates a business located in a residential area).

Ultimately, with a 2-1 vote (with Commissioner Bob Moomaw dissenting), the BoCC approved the ordinance to repeal the moratorium and approve regulations to allow certain medical marijuana businesses to operate within unincorporated Archuleta County, making the ordinance subject to a second reading before being enacted.

Within the 12 pages of proposed regulations, medical marijuana businesses are defined as:

• a person holding a medical marijuana center license, as defined in the Colorado Revised Statutes;

• “a medical marijuana-infused products manufacturing license;

• “an optional premises cultivation license;

• “any patient that cultivates, produces, sells, distributes, possesses, transports, or makes available marijuana in any form to another patient or to a primary caregiver for medical use;”

• “or a primary caregiver that cultivates, produces, sells, distributes, possesses, transports, or makes available marijuana in any form to more than one patient.”

Additionally, the draft regulations further define, “The term ‘medical marijuana business’ shall not include the private possession, production, distribution and medical use of marijuana by an individual patient or an individual caregiver for one patient in the residence of the patient or caregiver to the extent permitted by Article XVIII, Sec. 14 of the Colorado Constitution or any other applicable state law or regulation.”

The optional premises cultivation license referred to in C.R.S. §12-43.3-403 will not be issued by the county, thereby banning commercial grow operations due to impacts on neighboring properties, and in light of fire, safety and health risks associated with such facilities.

Only grow operations associated with the operation of a medical marijuana center will be allowed.

Medical marijuana businesses would have to obtain all necessary state licenses in addition to the license from the county, which would be contingent on the applicant proving he or she had satisfied a number of requirements including safety, dissemination, location and appearance.

All medical marijuana business licenses issued by the county would be valid for one year, at which time operators would have to apply for a renewal. A separate application would be required for each location at which a medical marijuana business is operated.

A license application would require, among other things, an operating plan describing the business’ products, a dimensioned floor plan of the premises showing required aspects, and a security plan (parts of which would be kept confidential).

Prior to final approval of a license by the BoCC, the premises would have to be inspected by the BoCC and, if applicable, by the Pagosa Fire Protection District.

As per the regulations, medical marijuana businesses would be allowed in commercial and industrial zones, but not within residential areas (banning home operations) nor within 1,500 feet of any school, daycare facility or dedicated public park.

Business hours of operation would be limited to 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. and would be subject to video surveillance and alarms, including at least one silent alarm per 500 square feet of interior business space.

Exterior signage for the business would not be allowed to include any word, phrase or symbol commonly understood to refer to marijuana.

Though in alignment with Colorado law following a vote in 2000, marijuana for any use is still illegal under federal law. The current administration has made it known that it is relaxing pursuit of federal marijuana charges in those states that allow medical use of the substance.

Should the administration change or the view of the administration change, the BoCC would likely reconsider the ordinance, said Starr.

Additionally, County Administrator Greg Schulte said there have been no indications that the garnering of federal funds would be jeopardized by the county should the BoCC choose to pass the ordinance upon second reading.

The BoCC now has to publish the regulations for at least 10 days prior to the second reading, currently scheduled to take place Sept. 21.

A copy of the proposed regulations is available for public viewing on the county website, www.archuletacounty.org.

randi@pagosasun.com