Summit County denies request for pot-growing operations
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – Summit County dispensaries could be trucking medical marijuana from the Front Range by September as they struggle to comply with new state laws.
County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to continue a freeze on medical pot-growing operations, meaning it will be a year before any more start in unincorporated areas.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” said Jerry Olson, owner of Medical Marijuana of the Rockies in Frisco. “They’re not concerned about Summit County businesses, jobs or landowners with vacant rental property.”
Existing dispensaries will soon be required to produce 70 percent of the marijuana they provide to patients, whether it’s grown on-site, in a nearby warehouse or another county.
Olson said his roughly 1,800-square-foot business couldn’t accommodate the warehouse space necessary for setting up a grow operation, and he’d found unincorporated county sites offering a place well away from neighborhoods. A soon-to-open Breckenridge dispensary owner spoke in support of Olson as well.
The previous county moratorium on grow operations was set to expire in late June, offering a window of about a week before a statewide, year-long freeze on new operations July 1. Commissioner Thomas Davidson cast the one dissenting vote on both medical marijuana issues – the moratorium and amendments to the town’s development code.
“I wish we could have tried to jump through the hoops and helped out these guys in their situation,” he said after the meeting.
Commissioner Bob French said it was only the third time the board didn’t vote in agreement in the past six years.
“It gave us a great deal to think about,” French said. “After the last two to three hours, we’ve taken it very much to heart.”
Pressure on a planning and legal staff already limited by budget cuts was cited as a reason the dispensary owners’ request couldn’t be accommodated on such short notice. Security was another concern.
“Clearly we were not prepared to deal really at all with the grow operations,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said.
The county to date hasn’t received any applications for permits for such operations, according to county staff.
Davidson said he respects his fellow commissioners’ decision.
“There’s no intent here to put somebody in a hard place,” he said.
There are nearly 10 dispensaries in local towns, and Olson said keeping grow operations local would mean more jobs and tax revenue staying local.
“I shudder at the idea of having to use more petrochemicals to bring stuff up here,” he said, adding that Front Range operations would require use of air conditioners as well.
The grow-operation issue brought an unexpected twist to Tuesday’s meeting, causing two recesses resulting in unannounced executive sessions for conference on legal matters with county attorney Jeff Huntley.
State open records laws require executive sessions to be announced, with legal basis explained and a vote before the session begins. Huntley and Davidson both said a vote was taken to begin an executive session – but it was made after commissioners and staff had called a recess and left the public hearing room for a nearby office.
“I think we’ll be more careful about making sure we follow due process in the future,” Davidson later said. “The reason we were in executive session this afternoon was completely valid.”
It wasn’t revealed that the first executive session occurred until the meeting was reconvened and then returned to a recess. The Summit Daily asked what transpired during the first recess and French explained there had been an executive session. No public vote was taken to go into the second session, either.
Huntley said the commissioners received a “candid explanation of what the law is” as well as potential ramifications.
Summit Daily attorney Steven Zansberg said in an e-mail that, because there was no public announcement and no public vote prior to the closed-door discussion in private, it was unquestionably an illegal meeting.
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