Marijuana dispensary owner threatens legal action against Garfield County
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A medical marijuana businessman is threatening to launch a legal battle to overturn Garfield County’s moratorium against such businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county.The threat, contained in a letter from the law firm of Neiley & Alder, is based partly on a state law that prohibits the county from closing down a business that was started legally, according to attorney Rick Neiley.”We don’t think they have the right to close a lawfully established business,” Neiley said Monday. Nor does the county government have the right to change the laws to make illegal what once was legal, he contends.Neiley’s firm is representing Hydroponic Creations LLC, a medical marijuana dispensary open since 2009 at the Thunder River Marketplace south of Glenwood Springs, and the dispensary’s landlord, Valley Investment Properties Partnership, or VIPP.The dispensary’s owner, Justin Rambo, has asked that his business be permitted to continue operating.Rambo has argued that he has invested considerable funds and effort into the business in compliance with Colorado law and with what he thought were assurances from county officials that his business was permitted.Colorado voters in 2000 passed a constitutional amendment that legalized the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes.In 2010, roughly a year after Rambo opened his dispensary’s doors, Garfield County voters opted to prohibit retail dispensaries and so-called “infused products” manufacturing (cookies and other edible products) in the unincorporated portions of the county.Any businesses of either type, including Hydroponic Creations, were to close down as of July 1 of this year, or move into one of the county’s six municipalities.But the two towns nearest to Rambo’s business, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, have their own moratoriums in effect, meaning Rambo’s business cannot relocate in either town.Neiley’s letter to county commissioners argues that Garfield County is specifically prohibited from closing Rambo’s store down due to a 2005 law passed by the state Legislature.That law, according to the letter, prohibits local governments from enacting regulations shuttering a business “that was lawful at the time of its inception.”Neiley said the county may have the authority to apply the moratorium on any future applications to open a dispensary, but not retroactively on businesses already running.If the county government agrees, Rambo can stay in business and the suit wouldn’t be filed, Neiley said.If not, he said, Rambo is prepared to wage a legal battle against the county’s actions, which may include a constitutional challenge to the moratorium and to the results of the 2010 county vote.”We expect the commissioners to follow the law,” Neiley stated. “You have to look to the fundamental constitutional rights granted to the citizens of the state. This amendment [approved by the voters in 2000] has the same stature of any other constitutional amendment – the right to free speech, to bear arms – and has to be treated with the same respect.”Commissioners went behind closed doors on Monday to discuss the letter with Carey Gagnon, assistant county attorney.Gagnon said after that discussion she would send a response to Neiley’s office Tuesday.She declined to say what the response would be, but said the letter will be made public after it has been delivered to Neiley’s firstname.lastname@example.org
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