Garfield County looks to extend pot moratorium
May 7, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – Local medical marijuana businesses are preparing to resist the Garfield County commissioners’ decision to extend a moratorium on cultivation operations in the unincorporated parts of the county.
Dan and Cheryl Sullivan, the owners of Green Medicine Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary in Glenwood Springs, hope to forestall final approval of a moratorium resolution at the commissioners’ Monday meeting. They are calling for a public discussion of the matter.
On May 2, the commissioners agreed to continue the moratorium, first enacted in June 2010, for another year in response to recent letters on medical marijuana emerging from the U.S. Department of Justice and the state Attorney General.
An April 26 letter from U.S. Attorney John Walsh affirmed the Justice Department’s willingness to investigate and prosecute those growing or selling medical marijuana, even if their activities are permitted under current state laws.
“In light of Mr. Walsh’s letter, I think it’d be appropriate that we continue our moratorium,” said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky at the May 2 meeting.
The commissioners voted 3-0 to continue the moratorium, which will be in place until May 2012. They are slated to approve a resolution to formally extend the moratorium as part of the consent agenda at the start of their regular meeting on Monday morning in Glenwood Springs.
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The consent agenda is a list of items that require no discussion, typically passed as a package by a single voice vote of the commissioners at the beginning of their meeting.
Aspen attorney Lauren Maytin, representing the Sullivans and Green Medicine Wellness, sent an email to county officials on Thursday requesting that the resolution on the moratorium extension be taken off the consent agenda so it can be discussed further.
Dan Sullivan said he has been waiting for six months for the county government to develop zoning regulations concerning medical marijuana cultivation, and said he was shocked by the county’s sudden decision to extend the moratorium.
“I’m sure these are well-meaning guys,” he said of the commissioners, “but the people need to weigh in on this.”
County Manager Ed Green said on Friday that he was aware of Maytin’s request, but had not received any direction from the commissioners to pull the moratorium resolution from the consent agenda.
“That’s something that the board will decide on Monday,” Green said.
The commissioners had been preparing to debate a set of amendments to the zoning code regarding the cultivation of marijuana within the county’s jurisdiction, when they abruptly decided to instead extend the moratorium and put the zoning changes on hold.
“There’s some sabre-rattling going on,” Sullivan said of the letters put out by Walsh and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. The Suthers letter, also dated April 26, contends that state employees could also be at risk of prosecution for “conducting activities under state medical marijuana laws.”
“It’s ludicrous to think that the feds are going to come in and lock up the Legislature and the medical marijuana registry workers,” Sullivan said.
“This has created somewhat of a fear-mongering atmosphere,” he argued, adding that the Garfield County commissioners’ moratorium extension “is in clear defiance of the voters.”
Last November, county voters OK’d the idea of allowing marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county, but turned down their approval of medical marijuana manufacturing operations or retail dispensaries.
Sullivan said he is at least hoping to convince the commissioners to “grandfather in,” or permit to stay in business, marijuana cultivation operations that were set up before the original June 2010 moratorium was imposed.
Assistant county attorney Carey Gagnon said no permits for growing operations have been issued by the county to date.
Meanwhile, Justin Rambo, owner of the medical marijuana dispensary Hydroponic Creations, located in unincorporated Garfield County at the CMC turn on Highway 82, is equally dismayed by the moratorium extension.
He also is concerned by indications that the county wants him to close his doors on July 1.
Rambo said county planning director Fred Jarman told him the business would be reviewed “on a case-by-case basis” along with other dispensaries in the county’s jurisdiction, and would not necessarily have to close by the July 1 deadline.
“It’s been my interpretation that a lot of the businesses that didn’t comply [with the county’s requirements] have folded up,” Rambo said.
But as far as he knows, his business is in compliance with current county requirements and with a set of proposed new regulations that were to be discussed this week by the commissioners.