County extends marijuana moratorium


Staff Writer

The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners approved the first reading of an ordinance Tuesday that, when and if passed upon second reading, would allow additional medical marijuana facilities in unincorporated Archuleta County.

At the same meeting on Tuesday, the board voted to extend the existing moratorium on new applications for medical marijuana businesses for an additional month in order for the ordinance to be approved upon second reading.

The existing moratorium was set to expire Tuesday (June 18), with the extension expiring July 18.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero, though, noted that he thinks the moratorium should be extended for a longer period, citing unknowns in legislation concerning retail marijuana (Amendment 64 marijuana) at the state level.

With an extended moratorium in place following a unanimous vote, the board was then presented with a draft ordinance regulating medical marijuana facilities by County Attorney Todd Starr, who highlighted differences between the new ordinance and the one currently in place (though not being used because of in-place moratoriums).

New to the regulations, Starr said, was the insertion of the definition of a church and that medical marijuana operations should be at least 1,000 feet from churches (as well as schools, daycare facilities and parks), and that operations be allowed in either commercial- or industrial-zoned areas.

The commissioners then discussed details of the ordinance, including the distance operations should be kept from residential areas and whether or not off-site grow operations should be allowed.

Much of the direction for the drafting of the ordinance presented Tuesday came from a May work session of the board that was attended by existing and prospective business owners in the industry.

What followed at Tuesday’s meeting was extensive discussion on the remaining details, which were decided through a series of motions.

In the end, it was decided that growth and sale of medical marijuana should be confined to the same site, and that operations should be located at least 250 feet from residential areas, as measured from lot line to lot line, unless separated by the highway.

To begin the discussion, commissioner Michael Whiting noted his desire for the least amount of regulation that would protect the people of Archuleta County, while commissioner Steve Wadley discussed the passage of marijuana-related ballot questions in Colorado and Archuleta County.

Lucero noted his opposition to allowing marijuana facilities in the county, stating, “What we do today will affect the community for years to come.”

First up for discussion was off-site grow facilities.

Wadley said he believes both growth and sale should be located at the same site, so both can be closely monitored.

Whiting, following disclosure that he wrote an opinion piece on the subject for the blog he edits, likened keeping both growth and sale at the same site to forcing a grocery store to grow its own produce on site, or for a pharmacy to manufacture medications on site, stating that transport is highly regulated and requiring a single site created an undue burden on businesses.

After a motion confining growing and sale operations to one site on the table, the topic was opened to public comment, with prospective business owner Jeremy Bonan the first to comment.

Bonan, too, noted that the transportation of medical marijuana is highly regulated, and likened the situation to marijuana-infused products (edibles and tinctures, for example) being created off-site. Bonan also noted that he knew of no break-ins of off-site grow facilities in Colorado and noted that several potential business owners had left the county because they wanted to operate only grow centers and not dispensaries.

Marijuana-infused products are currently allowed under the ordinance.

“I’m not very up on this marijuana stuff,” Lucero said, “And I apologize.”

Wadley then asked if security would be easier at one facility, versus having an off-site grow operation, to which Bonan replied that there is an extra security cost to operate two facilities, but that very few buildings in Archuleta County accommodate the housing of both a growth and dispensary operation.

Bonan also noted the business opportunity involved in growing marijuana in Archuleta County and shipping it elsewhere.

Lucero noted that buildings accommodating both uses could be built in Cloman Industrial Park.

Jason Werby, another potential business owner, also discussed the business opportunities allowed by off-site grow operations in terms of added jobs and businesses that grow medical marijuana to be shipped elsewhere in the state.

Adam Albach, pastor of a local church, spoke out against allowing medical marijuana facilities, stating that the board could not regulate morality and noting the number of people in jail for alcohol and drugs.

“You guys can make the difference for years to come,” Albach said.

“This affects a lot of people,” Lucero said, calling children (seven children were in the audience at the meeting) the “most vulnerable.”

Bill Delany, owner of the county’s only legally operating dispensary, noted that an optional, off-site grow facility was broken into in La Plata County last year, calling an off-site grow facility a safety concern.

Lucero then noted that everyone should have the same rules, leading the first motion to be withdrawn and a new motion made by Wadley to keep the off-site grow operation regulations the same as in the 2010 ordinance.

That voted passed with a 2-1 vote, with Whiting opposed.

Next up was the discussion of distance from residential areas.

Deleted from the ordinance, Starr said, would be a regulation that centers would have to be at least 500 feet from each other.

As the discussion began, Lucero urged his fellow commissioners to keep real estate values in mind — values that are just beginning to experience an upswing.

The commissioners then saw a presentation including maps and how 200- and 250-foot distances from residential areas, parks and schools would limit the availability of commercial and industrial locations for medical marijuana centers. Not included in that presentation was the 1,000-foot distance from churches, schools, parks and daycares.

Following the presentation, Wadley noted the, “many locations someone could build.”

“Someone’s going to make money here; they’re not doing it for their health,” Lucero said after noting the number of viable lots in Cloman.

As discussion progressed, Lucero voiced his desire to confine medical marijuana operations to Cloman, while Whiting noted that, even if kids or teenagers know where a medical marijuana facility is located, it doesn’t mean they can obtain anything.

After making and withdrawing a motion for operations to be at least 200 feet from residential areas, a motion was made increasing that distance to 250 feet.

In discussion on the topic, Werby stated that, “prohibition doesn’t protect children,” and told the board to consider having the substance controlled by responsible business owners or by the black market.

George Daniels then spoke about the need to keep the operations away from churches — that many are “diametrically opposed” to marijuana, that churches are interested in lives and freeing people from the bondage of drugs and alcohol, and the protection of children, stating it is about more than jobs, money and business owners.

Bonan suggested that the distances from churches be the same as for residential structures.

Albach then spoke about the number of lives being destroyed if the drug is not a big deal, and again stated his opposition.

The 2-1 vote (with Lucero opposing) approved the 250-foot buffer from residential areas.

The second reading of the ordinance is expected to take place on July 16, as will consideration of fees for new applications and licenses.

The ordinance, per statutory requirements, will be published in full in The Pagosa Springs SUN.