Commissioners delay pot jerky decision

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday decided to postpone a decision on whether to allow the owner of High Mountain Taxi to start a marijuana-infused bison jerky business at his facility in the Aspen Business Center.

The proposal looked to be headed toward a denial before commissioners made the decision to continue it for two weeks.

“I really don’t find myself in a position to support this,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards, citing her role as a parent and protector of community safety

Commissioner Patti Clapper also told applicant Todd Gardner that it looked like his application wouldn’t be approved. However, Grafton Smith, a land planner working on the proposal with Gardner, asked for the continuance to address issues raised by commissioners Wednesday, and they agreed.

Commissioner concerns about marijuana edibles have prompted a debate about the message the products send to children, their similarities to candy and other treats that appeal to children and their overall safety. Last month, they denied a woman’s application to set up a kitchen at the Aspen Business Center to manufacture marijuana-infused candy, gum and popcorn and are now awaiting proposals from a local marijuana safety council about what should be done about edibles in Pitkin County.

Gardner, who has owned the local taxi company for the past 15 years, and his team were clearly cognizant of that debate and were able to provide answers that earned praise from commissioners at times. However, that may not be enough to gain approval.

Gardner wants to buy marijuana from a grower and extract cannabis oil from it using a carbon dioxide process approved by the county’s Environmental Health Department. He would purchase buffalo meat from South Dakota, dry it at the facility and later coat it with the cannabis oil, Gardner said.

The jerky would be sold as single serving, 10 mg pieces in individually-wrapped, child-proof packages labeled as THC-infused products. The company also would place a food-grade sticker on each piece of jerky that would label it as a marijuana-infused product, Gardner said.

The facility would not have a retail component and would have no sign announcing the jerky business.

The facility would use carbon filters to mitigate any odors produced in the oil extraction process. It also would have a chemist on site and a machine that can measure the presence of pesticides and fungicides in the marijuana before extraction, and would require growers to supply pesticide and fungicide-free pot, Gardner said.

Commissioners were particularly sensitive to the odor issue because of months spent last year dealing with neighbor complaints about odors coming from the marijuana growing at High Valley Farms near Basalt.

Richards said that experience “left a mark,” while Clapper warned Gardner that the board would yank his license at their discretion if odor issues arose.

“It’s the board’s general philosophy that there be no odor emissions,” Clapper said.

Another potentially deal breaking aspect of the jerky proposal is the facility’s proximity to the Aspen Sprouts day care center at the Aspen Business Center.

Gardner said he initially used Google Earth’s mapping capability to show that Aspen Sprouts was more than 1,000 feet away from the facility, which was OK’d by a county staffer as barely meeting land-use code regulations. However, the code actually says that the two property lines must be 1,000 feet apart, and they are not, according to county staff.

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely told commissioners that is not automatic grounds for denial, though both Richards and Clapper had problems with it.

“I’m concerned about the safety of children in case of a security issue,” Clapper said.

Commissioner Steve Child was not as concerned because he said he didn’t think it was likely that preschoolers would be walking around the Aspen Business Center unaccompanied and that Aspen Sprouts was in a different part of the complex. Still, he said he would make it a condition of approval that no signs for the jerky company be erected so that kids, even if they could read, would never know it was there.

Child also said he would require Gardner to stamp or brand each piece of jerky with a THC emblem that could not be removed, require the use of pesticide-free marijuana for the oil and allow commissioners to review the license every three months for the first year.

Commissioners also said they’d like to hear the recommendations from the Valley Marijuana Council about edibles before making a decision, or require Gardner to comply with any adopted recommendations after they are presented.

Commissioners George Newman and Michael Owsley did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. The marijuana jerky application will be addressed again May 10 at a special meeting.