Pitkin County mulls medical marijuana regs

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
A marijuana plant is grown under lights at the Boulder County Caregivers in Boulder, Colo. on Friday, July 24, 2009. It's all legal and it's all taxed. But this marijuana dispensary and nearly 60 others that are serving a growing number of medical marijuana users operate with little oversight by state or local authorities. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

ASPEN – At least two Pitkin County commissioners believe the county should take a light-handed approach to regulation of the medical marijuana industry. Beyond that, commissioners agreed Tuesday to ask citizens what they want.

The county’s caucuses should be asked to weigh in on what they’d like permitted in their neighborhoods, commissioners concurred during a broad discussion of what the county zoning code currently permits and what additional regulation might be appropriate.

No decisions were made, and Lance Clarke, deputy director of community development for the county, received very little specific direction. The county has until July 2011 to enact regulations, if it chooses to do so. It could also ban the industry within unincorporated Pitkin County entirely, or let state regulations govern dispensaries, grow operations and the manufacturing of marijuana-infused products.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield called for a “laissez-faire” approach. “Less is better, as far as I’m concerned, as far as regulation,” he said.

“We probably need something; it’s just how much something do we need here?” agreed Commissioner Patti Kay-Clapper. “I don’t want to over-regulate it.”

The state required existing and planned operations to register by July 1. In Pitkin County, six grow sites, two dispensaries and two makers of infused products registered, according to Clarke. County zoning allows dispensaries at the Aspen Business Center and a handful of other small nodes where commercial businesses exist. Grow operations – the cultivation of medical marijuana – is allowed in areas zoned agricultural.

“This really is most of Pitkin County,” Clarke said.

The making of infused products is permitted at the Aspen Business Center and by special review in certain other locales, but small-scale growing activities and infused-product operations could potentially occur as home-based enterprises under the county’s code, he added.

Whether home-based activities should be allowed is likely to get more discussion. Commissioners questioned the potential for fire danger associated with grow lights used in the indoor cultivation of medical marijuana. Having an appropriate water supply for irrigation and proper collection and disposal of the water are also issues.

Environmental health directors around the state have been debating the need to inspect marijuana-infused product operations, Clarke added. They don’t currently fall under food/restaurant inspection regulations.

Commissioner Michael Owsley was troubled by state legislation that mandates secrecy with regard to the location of grow operations. The locales can’t be made public – a rule apparently aimed at preventing growers from becoming targets for pot theft.

It would be difficult to have a meaningful public hearing on a proposed grow operation if its location can’t be disclosed, Clarke conceded.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me and doesn’t serve the public interest whatsoever,” Owsley said.

Though no specific regulations have yet been proposed for commissioner consideration, Clarke said he expects to come up with some recommendations after consulting with neighborhood groups. As the county will have inspection responsibilities, and incur administrative expenses, it’s appropriate that the county come up with its own licensing of the industry and charge fees to recoup its costs, he said.