The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners voted to adopt the county’s new retail marijuana licensing regulations on Wednesday, but not without another round of debate on some of the details the commissioners have been trying to tweak since October.
It was the first reading of the ordinance adopting the county’s retail marijuana licensing regulations in their entirety, to be added to Title 6 of the Pitkin County Code as Chapter 6.48. The first five articles were adopted by the board in September.
There were three work sessions to discuss the remaining regulations on Oct. 1, Oct. 17 and Nov. 5. The previously adopted regulations will be repealed, and the regulations in their entirety will be adopted in one action by this ordinance.
The board voted to approve the adoption of the new regulations by a vote of 3-1, with Commissioners Steve Child, Rachel Richards and Michael Owsley voting to approve and Commissioner George Newman voting against.
The regulations as proposed were adopted with the exception that the Frying Pan Caucus be included in the areas where retail marijuana licenses are prohibited.
There also was a requirement added for a notification that marijuana retailers need to inform potential customers of the current status of the laws and the responsibilities of the consumer.
Newman made sure the Frying Pan Caucus was added to the list of caucuses opting out of allowing any retail marijuana licenses. Owsley then commented that he felt the caucuses were vulcanizing the county by not having uniform regulations throughout the county.
Newman then pointed out that some caucuses already have limited house sizes and commercial enterprises, but Owsley wasn’t convinced.
“Caucuses are advisory,” he said. “I think the adoption of different codes in different parts of the county is a mistake.”
The board briefly discussed energy usage at retail facilities, what type of signage can be used, whether a temporary cap on the number of retail licenses being issued was necessary and when the board should begin to rewrite the medical marijuana regulations to be mostly consistent with the retail regulations.
In all those discussions, it was decided to go with the current submitted regulations.
When the discussion turned to the $5,000 fees being charged to apply for each of the four retail marijuana licenses — to sell, test, grow or infuse marijuana — Owsley said he thought the fees were much too high and overtaxed those applying.
Owsley proposed that the fees be lowered to $1,000 and that they county stop looking at the fees as a way of capitalizing on the applicants.
Richards countered that the fees weren’t unreasonable but could see them being reduced to maybe $4,000.
“We’ve always had a philosophy that development pays its own way,” she said. “This is a form of development.”
Owsley said perhaps the fees should mirror the application fees used in Pitkin County for liquor licenses.
Ultimately, there was no motion to reduce the fees.
Newman then added that he wouldn’t support the new regulations, and he wanted the county to wait a year before finalizing the county retail marijuana regulations.
“I think this is premature,” he said. “I think we should sit out a year, look at some of the issues. ... There is a concern in the community ... to have some broader discussions on some of these issues. I recall when this first came up last summer that this would be simple, ... but we found out this is not the case. It’s a complicated issue. Pitkin County is going to see an influx of applications for not only dispensaries but for grow sites and testing facilities because no one else in this valley is allowing it in terms of unincorporated counties. I’m not sure why we’re putting unincorporated Pitkin County to be a guinea pig.”
Richards said she would support the ordinance and that after much work by the commissioners, not moving forward means tacit support for a continuing and expanding black market that isn’t regulated.
Owsley said it’s not an endorsement of consumption of marijuana but simply a bureaucratic effort to have some regulation.
“We’re faced with a challenge,” he said. “There are counties that can’t face this challenge. Pitkin County has a history of facing challenges, and this is one we can face.”
Child then added that it’s time to take a bold step forward and that it’s time to pass the current regulations.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into getting these regulations to this point, and they’re probably not perfect,” he said. “They’ll probably be changed as we go along, but I say let’s pass them today and proceed forward.”
After the vote to approve, Jordan Lewis, managing partner of Silverpeak Apothecary in Aspen, said Newman was on the wrong side of history.
“I don’t agree with George,” he said. “I see Rachel (Richards), Michael (Owsley) and Steve (Child) as thoughtful and progressive. I give them credit to attempt to move forward.”
The adoption of the new retail regulations will have a second reading and allow public comments on Feb. 12.
The board also was scheduled to vote on whether to establish a temporary moratorium on issuing any new medical marijuana licenses, but it ultimately voted for a continuance and to wait until Commissioner Rob Ittner was present to vote on the issue.