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County goes to pot

Archuleta County has officially gone to pot.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners approved a medical marijuana ordinance repealing the existing moratorium and allowing certain operations in unincorporated Archuleta County.

One change was made to the regulations prior to the second reading after county staff discovered that if a center’s growth of medical marijuana fit certain criteria, it would fall under the optional premises cultivation license, which the county prohibits.

Added to the regulations, then, were three conditions that must be met by a medical marijuana center for cultivation of the plant to be legal — growth must be in connection with the operation of a medical marijuana center; the growing center and medical marijuana center must have identical ownership; and the operations must be on the same or adjacent parcels for property tax purposes.

Following a motion to adopt the regulations, each commissioner made a statement.

Commissioner Bob Moomaw began by noting the existence of two legal drugs — alcohol and tobacco — which he said cause “immense problems for many people” and admitting that the decision was, for him, a personal one.

“This is basically an attempt to legalize marijuana under the disguise of medical marijuana,” Moomaw said, adding that, because it was a ballot initiative, the legislation was poorly written. Although the town and county have tried to do a good job with potential legislation, “it’s still a little like putting a dress on a pig; it’s still a pig,” Moomaw said.

Moomaw also said that he’d done research on the topic and believes marijuana is an entry drug that, when more available, more people will try.

Commissioner John Ranson said that the decision was the toughest he’d faced while in office and that the goal was to move the operations out of residential areas, without centers lining the main corridor through town.

Ranson said he also looked at Archuleta County’s voting history on the topic and found that the state measure had passed “by a hair” in 2000.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero took a different approach during his statement, warning of a county crackdown on illegal marijuana operations, noting that Sheriff Pete Gonzalez was “going to put his foot down.”

“If you’ve been growing medical marijuana or if you’ve been selling medical marijuana, you better stop. ... If you’ve been doing it wrong, you better stop. We’re not going to allow it ... If you’ve been doing it, you better darn well stop,” Lucero said.

Lucero also said he’d spoken with a number of older residents and said he is in favor of strictly regulating the industry.

Public comment on the subject varied and emotions ran high, with some touting the benefits and others warning of the effect of its availability on the county’s youth.

Judy Esterly urged the commissioners to not open a door they would be unhappy with in the future.

Teri Frazier asked what would happen should the federal government enforce a federal ban on marijuana (County Attorney Todd Starr said centers would be operating at their own risk).

Reed Kelly, speaking on behalf of Bill Delany, used a potato to demonstrate that anything can be dangerous (by touting facts of eating too many potatoes) and said medical marijuana could be a positive thing for the community, as could regulating something that could be dangerous.

Joanne Irons urged the BoCC to think of the area youth, noting that substance abuse among Archuleta County youth was highest with alcohol and marijuana.

Delany, speaking for himself, said that children know of marijuana as a party drug, but that he has been unable to ignore the medical help it has provided him. Delaney also spoke of job and income increases and the need for centers to be set up to deal with abuses of the drug.

Ned Abbott, too, spoke of the value of medical marijuana and asked the commissioners to find the middle road, regulating without propagating the substance.

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.

Within the 12 pages of 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 state, “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 within the county, banning commercial grow operations due to impacts on neighboring properties and fire, safety and health risks associated with such facilities, the regulations state.

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

Medical marijuana businesses will have to obtain all necessary state licenses in addition to the license from the county, which will be contingent on the applicant proving a number of factors including safety, dissemination, location and appearance.

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

Among other criteria, a license application will require an operating plan describing the business’ products, a dimensioned floor plan of the premises showing required aspects, and a security plan (parts of which may be done confidentially).

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

As per the regulations, medical marijuana businesses will be allowed in commercial and industrial zones, but not within residential areas (thus banning home operations) and at least 1,500 feet from any school, daycare operation or dedicated public park.

Business hours will be limited to 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and will 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 will not be allowed to include any word, phrase or symbol commonly understood to refer to marijuana.

Though Colorado law allows for the medical use of marijuana, any use other than is still illegal under federal law. The current administration has made it known it is relaxing the pursuit of certain federal marijuana offenses in those states that allow medical use of the substance.

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

randi@pagosasun.com