Pitkin County mulls next step for medical marijuana
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County is one of 22 Colorado counties that allow medical marijuana businesses to operate in unincorporated areas, but the county’s refusal to issue licenses to the operations puts their future in question.
County commissioners are scheduled to discuss what sort of licensing procedure, if any, the county should establish. If it does nothing, according to County Attorney John Ely, Colorado will deny a state license to the approximately 10 operators that are currently doing business in unincorporated Pitkin County.
Commissioner Michael Owsley had asked that staffers attempt to arrange for a state representative to attend Tuesday’s discussion.
The state’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division has informed the county that the local jurisdiction’s lack of action will be interpreted as the denial of a local license, though that was not the commissioners’ intent in June, when they decided to drop any effort to regulate dispensaries, grow operations or makers of products infused with medical marijuana.
Rather, commissioners agreed the businesses should be solely regulated by the state after Ely pointed out that dealing in medical marijuana remains a violation of federal law even though it’s permitted in Colorado. Asking county employees to issue licenses to marijuana businesses and enforce zoning laws related to medical marijuana puts them in a position of potential criminal liability, he said at the time.
“The conduct that is contemplated in the statutes of Colorado is illegal,” Ely told commissioners in June. “I don’t think the county should be in the position of abetting the violation of federal law.”
“This is a fairly rare occurrence – that he tells us we might be doing something illegal,” said Owsley at the time, urging his colleagues to follow Ely’s advice and reject proposed county regulations.
The dichotomy between state and federal law has not changed, but the county’s inaction has put existing businesses in a tenuous position.
Meanwhile, federal authorities began cracking down last week on medical marijuana businesses in Colorado, targeting those within 1,000 feet of schools. State regulations prohibit the businesses within 1,000 feet of schools, but grandfathered in were those businesses already in existence before regulations were passed in 2010.
U.S. Attorney John Walsh said 23 dispensaries near schools have until Feb. 27 to shut down or face federal penalties, which can include asset seizure or forfeiture of property. The warning letters, dated Thursday, were being sent to dispensary owners and their landlords.
Colorado has more than 600 retail shops, 900 cultivation sites and 230 infused-product manufacturers operating under state law, according to the state Revenue Department.
In Pitkin County, most medical marijuana businesses are operating within municipalities and are unaffected by what the county does or doesn’t do. Municipal licensing and regulations apply to those operations.
In addition to the 22 Colorado counties that allow medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, three are “hybrids” that allow some operations but not others. In Garfield County, for example, voters decided to allow grow operations but ban dispensaries and infused-product manufacturers in the unincorporated areas, a memo to commissioners read.
In addition, some counties that have banned the businesses have allowed already-existing operations to continue.
The Pitkin County commissioners take up medical marijuana Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. in their Plaza One meeting room.
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