Pitkin County pot ready for review

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

It took three work sessions and a number of discussions, but the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners now has a working draft of regulations for the county’s recreational marijuana licensing procedure and criteria.

Next comes a first reading to the public, followed by a public hearing that will be open to public comments. No date has been set for the first reading.

“We still have a few tweaks to make after today’s discussions,” Pitkin County attorney John Ely said after Tuesday’s work session with the county commissioners. “But the initial construction is done, and we can now move forward to get these regulations adopted.”

At the work session, the commissioners finished reviewing and approving the final seven of 14 articles that make up the proposed regulations. The articles covered renewal of retail licenses, signage around growing and retail facilities, facility requirements, changes in licenses, inspections, penalties and revocation, and operating fees.

It was the issue of operating fees that sparked the most discussion and debate. State law allows local jurisdictions to impose operating fees on any recreational marijuana operation.

The operating fees are $5,000 for each license sought, so a person looking to acquire a recreational store, cultivation, manufacturing and testing license has to put up $20,000.

These fees are separate from application fees or any taxable transactions. The intent of operating fees by local jurisdictions is to defray anticipated local costs in regard to inspections, complaints and law enforcement responses.

They’re also nonrefundable and due before any license is issued.

Ely noted that after a year in place, the county should know whether to adjust the operating fees.

“These fees aren’t meant to be prohibitive to retail marijuana establishments,” he said.

Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested that a sliding scale might be more appropriate for a person looking to obtain multiple licenses.

“We don’t want this process to become a cash cow,” Richards said.

Commissioner George Newman suggested looking into reducing the fees, while Commissioner Michael Owsley said to leave them as is.

“The fact is we’re going into a new business that until recently was prohibitive,” Ely said. “There are lots of unknowns that we’ll get answers to in time, like if these fees are at the right level.”

One of the facility requirements that brought up another debate was the selling of such marijuana-related products as pipes, rolling papers and other like items at a recreational marijuana store. Ely suggested that the commissioners consider letting recreational marijuana shops sell such items since these things can be sold anywhere already.

Commissioner Michael Owsley disagreed and said he would prefer to see strictly marijuana sold at a recreational outlet for the first year.

Owsley also thought that putting any form of odor restriction regulations on a cultivation area wouldn’t be fair since there aren’t any odor-reducing requirements, for example, for farms with livestock such as cows or horses.

There was some talk about license renewals, specifically one parameter that calls for any unresolved complaints to go before the commissioners at a public hearing. It was unclear what determined whether a complaint was legitimate and just who could file such complaints. Richards suggested that there needed to be clarification on whom to contact with complaints and how to follow them up.

“These regulations aren’t going to be perfect — yet,” Ely said. “It’s all pretty new, and we’re doing our best to make this a smooth process. Any violations or issues that are unresolved will come to the commissioners. These regulations can be changed, and in time we’ll learn if we need to make any adjustments.”