Garfield County, state to confer about pot growing operations |

Garfield County, state to confer about pot growing operations

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County has agreed to work with state regulators to certify that at least half a dozen growers of medical marijuana applied for licenses to the county prior to passage of a July 1, 2010 county moratorium.

Growers that had not sent in a formal application to the county by that deadline, but started growing operations anyway, are not in compliance and are operating illegally, said deputy county attorney Carey Gagnon on July 5.

In the meantime, according to county officials, there is some concern about how county representatives will be received when they try to enforce the laws governing medical marijuana cultivation.

“They don’t know when they’re going to stumble across an optional premises cultivation,” Gagnon told the Garfield County commissioners on July 5, referring to pot growing operations dotted around the county.

“We are concerned about those guys,” seconded Fred Jarman, the county’s chief building and planning official.

A senior building official said Tuesday that there has been no confrontational resistance to county inspections of medical marijuana growing operations.

“I’m not aware of any confrontations,” said Andy Schwaller, chief county building inspector, between county building inspectors, zoning enforcement officers or other officials, and those who are growing medical marijuana.

“It’s just seeing that there’s the potential for something to happen,” he added, referring to a discussion of the matter at the July 5 commissioners’ meeting.

Neither Gagnon nor Schwaller know how many growing operations there are in the county. Nor do they know how many growers believe they have applied for a county license to operate but have not actually done so.

“This is a gray area,” Gagnon said of the uncertainty surrounding the legality of growing operations in the county.

Colorado voters in 2000 made it legal to grow, sell and use marijuana for medical purposes.

But it was not until 2009 that the industry took off in a big way, after President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the administration would not prosecute legitimate medical marijuana purveyors and patients.

Over the past two years, state and local officials throughout Colorado have scrambled to figure out how to regulate the industry.

Gagnon told commissioners on Tuesday that county building inspectors and zoning enforcement officers have encountered medical marijuana growing operations, both in structures that have been converted to that purpose and in new buildings put up with medical marijuana in mind.

“Some property owners are friendly, and some are not so friendly,” she said.

Schwaller confirmed on Tuesday that his inspectors have come across growing operations, but said there had been no problems associated with those encounters.

“If there’s a potential for something to be not so great a deal, the guys don’t get into a bad situation,” he said. “If a guy makes any threat of any nature … we just leave.”

Then the building department follows up with a letter to the property owner.

Schwaller stressed that “it’s not like the rain forest in the Pacific Northwest, where there are armed guards and booby traps.”

Commissioners instructed Gagnon to respond to a request from the state Department of Revenue, which is in charge of medical marijuana regulation, asking for the county’s list of growers who had applied for county permits.

Gagnon said the county has never had a licensing system for medical marijuana cultivation, or anyone designated to accept and process license applications, and still does not.

But approximately half a dozen medical marijuana growers, she said, had sent Garfield County a copy of that grower’s state license application, which the county is now treating as a formal application.

“From the beginning, there’s been a lot of confusion” at the state, county and local levels about how to regulate the industry, she said.

The state’s request for the list of growers, she said, “is just a demonstration of compliance with state law,” since the state could not issue licenses to growers without verification that they were following local regulations.

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