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BoCC extends medical marijuana moratorium

Medical marijuana was again in question Tuesday afternoon at the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners’ meeting.

With the existing moratorium banning any new medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated Archuleta County set to expire yesterday, County Attorney Todd Starr suggested extending that moratorium, citing a constantly changing environment surrounding medical marijuana.

Starr suggested the extension with the addition of a requirement that he report to the board quarterly concerning the status of medical marijuana in Colorado.

Having suggested the reporting requirement, Starr told the BoCC that the environment concerning the substance is changing rapidly, making reporting on it difficult.

Starr said that, as of the time of the meeting, 32 Colorado counties have moratoriums concerning medical marijuana, while 21 other counties have absolute bans.

The “huge” concern, Starr said, is the simple fact that the substance is illegal according to the federal government, but is legal for medical purposes according to the state.

Starr also noted the existence of one dispensary operating in Archuleta County, which he said operates in very professional fashion and lessens the brunt of banning any new dispensaries in the area.

“I hate to see a monopoly, but that’s how the paper or cookie crumbled, if you will,” Starr said.

Commissioner Michael Whiting was the first to speak on the topic, reiterating that the environment concerning medical marijuana will likely change rapidly until November (and the General Election), but that the dispensary operating currently helps those in the county who need medicinal marijuana.

Commissioner Steve Wadley was next to comment, beginning by saying that he is the most conservative commissioner personally, but that, since Colorado allows medicinal marijuana legally, he now must throw personal bias “out the window” and be responsible with carrying out state law.

Wadley, too, noted concern over the discrepancy between state and federal laws concerning the substance.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero, who was on the BoCC when it approved medical marijuana regulations for the county in 2010 (then instituted a moratorium on new operations), noted that, when the BoCC dealt with the matter in 2010, it accomplished moving existing operations out of residential neighborhoods — an important step.

Lucero also stated that the board is, “being very, very cautious,” with that caution needing to continue.

With a motion and second in favor of the moratorium, the floor was opened to public comment.

Audience member Jeff Heinstzleman was first up, noting that he has been watching the progress in the county and that he has, “been disappointed in leadership representing the people of the county.”

Heinstzleman said the county has done nothing but enact bans, with the current ban to wait on the federal government.

“Now you’re going to ban business again?” he asked, also citing the monopoly in the county.

After a brief history on the use of marijuana as a medicine, Heinstzleman told the commissioners he wished they would listen to people and educate themselves, ending, “It has stayed in this state forever.”

Wadley responded to the comment by saying that the BoCC had met with the Colorado Attorney General about a year ago and discussed medical marijuana, adding that the validity of its use was not in question, but the conflict between the state and federal government was.

“At some point, there needs to be some type of agreement between those agencies,” Wadley said.

Lucero, too, noted that the substance is an important medicine for some, but that the BoCC needed to be responsible and can’t give the green light to all dispensaries.

Whiting, too, responded, noting that the commission can end the moratorium before May 2013 should new information arise and the county is doing what can be done on the subject.

“Any county that allows medical marijuana to be sold is breaking federal law,” Whiting said. “This board is willing to do that.”

Next, audience member Jim Huffman asked if there are any pending court cases working on the disparity between state and federal laws.

“Yes,” Starr said, adding, “I’m not going to respond further.”

Two owners of a Durango dispensary, Aaron Miles and Jonny Redding, were the next to take the floor, pointing out that all dispensaries are guided to operate responsibly under regulations from the Department of Revenue and HB 1284, adding that they contribute to the job, sales tax and real estate sectors with their business.

The pair also suggested that allowing additional shops in Archuleta County would be fair and equitable, prompting Starr to ask the pair how they would handle the moratorium and suggesting they look at the regulations currently in place in the county, then speak with him.

Last up was audience member Leanne Richey, who said she believed the BoCC was approaching the situation in the best interest of the county.

“When push comes to shove, the DEA is going to win,” Richey suggested, adding that it was important to move operations out of areas where children could be endangered.

After applauding the BoCC for their cautious approach, Richey ended by noting that she was in favor of the “compassionate use” of medical marijuana.

With no further public comment, the BoCC extended the moratorium until May of 2013 with the additional requirement that Starr give a quarterly update on the matter.

randi@pagosasun.com

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