Editorial: Slow approach hampers retail pot industry
Pitkin County’s elected commissioners have been discussing and debating recreational marijuana regulations since July, after the state laid out its ground rules for regulation of the new industry.
On Wednesday, barring some unforeseen delay, the commissioners are expected to finally adopt an ordinance covering the manufacture, sale and cultivation of recreational pot.
We hope they pass the rules, for it seems the crafting of the ordinance has taken too long. We understand the need for cautiousness in regulating a new industry, but in the case of Pitkin County, there appears to have been an overly conservative approach to creating the law.
Many other Colorado counties and municipalities took a progressive stand and moved swiftly to honor the wishes of local voters who supported Amendment 64 — the November 2012 statewide referendum that paved the way for recreational pot sales. Local governments in dozens of areas were able to get their regulations drafted and approved well before Jan. 1, the date that the state set for the start of nonmedical marijuana commerce.
As of Monday, an estimated 60 recreational shops have sprouted up across the state and are doing big business — but not one of them is in unincorporated Pitkin County.
Nor are any of them in the city of Aspen, for that matter, where one medical marijuana purveyor, Jordan Lewis, is waiting for the county to adopt its rules so that he may take marijuana from his growing operation near Redstone and sell it in a recreational format at his store, Silverpeak Apothecary on East Cooper Avenue. The city and the state already have given their approvals; the holdup is at the county level. With passage of the county’s pot regs on Wednesday, Lewis will no longer be hamstrung by the bureaucratic process; if all goes well, he might be able to kick off recreational sales before the end of the month.
George Newman, a thoughtful and dedicated commissioner, is part of the reason for the delay. At a recent meeting, he suggested that the county wait another year before allowing recreational cannabis sales, characterizing the regulations as premature. He frequently mentions opposition from three neighborhood caucuses — in Emma, Fryingpan and Snowmass/Capitol Creek — as well as concerns from local school, airport and hospital officials. In fact, the regulations are being tailored to allow a moratorium on recreational pot cultivation and sales in the three aforementioned areas, over the objections of Commissioner Michael Owsley, who has argued that such exclusions are separatist.
We agree with Commissioner Rachel Richards, who has said that failing to adopt the rules only serves to encourage black-market commerce. It appears as though Owsley and Steve Child will join her in providing the necessary majority to pass the ordinance. For the sake of county unity, and to provide encouragement to reasonable business interests, it would be good if all of the commissioners could be united on the matter.
After all, more than 75 percent of Pitkin County voters supported Amendment 64. To us, that’s far greater than the 55 percent support provided statewide and a resounding endorsement to move the recreational industry forward.