Letter: Respecting the caucuses’ wishes

Although I don’t normally respond to newspaper editorials or letters to the editor, I am making an exception to first thank The Aspen Times for their kind compliments of me in their Friday editorial and second to correct some misconceptions.

It is true that the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners has been working on rules and regulations regarding the licensing of recreational marijuana for unincorporated Pitkin County since the summer. The process has been lengthy due many factors; one being the need for several work sessions on the issue, which raised more questions at each session by each of the commissioners, and second going through our normal public-hearing process. The timing of our discussions has more to do with other issues on our plates as well as all the research we have asked staff to do than the assertion that any one commissioner caused a delay in the process.

To assume that I am the cause of the logjam is to give me far more credit than I deserve. It is true that I have been an advocate for a temporary ban of recreational licenses in unincorporated Pitkin County. In fact, this has been my position from the onset and not just at our last regular meeting. But as only one of five commissioners, I certainly have not hindered our normal process in moving this agenda along. My issues with the licensing of recreational marijuana are not related to the passage of Amendment 64. In fact, I agree that marijuana should be legalized, decriminalized and properly regulated like any other drug on the market. Rather, my concerns are the timing and land-use impacts in our rural neighborhoods. The vast majority of counties and municipalities are taking a similar wait-and-see approach, including our neighbors in Garfield and Eagle counties.

There are and soon will be retail outlets throughout the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen to Glenwood. While Snowmass Village is interestingly absent, product will readily be available where it makes sense that it should be and overseen by the municipalities, eliminating any concern regarding black-market operations.

I do agree with my fellow board members that Pitkin County should be a role model for other counties to follow. The time that the board has spent developing these rules and regulations will reflect that. I strongly argued that we honor the various caucuses’ requests for a one-year moratorium and am pleased that the board has agreed to this. This will allow county residents to gain a better understanding of the issues and impacts recreational dispensaries and grow sites might have in those rural neighborhoods where law enforcement may be hours away, as well as concerns about “mega” green houses for cultivation that are not in alignment nor character with their caucuses’ master plans. As a matter of fact, if those caucuses had asked that recreational dispensaries and cultivation sites be allowed in their neighborhoods, I would have supported those wishes equally as strongly.

My responsibility as an elected official is to address and hopefully enhance the health, safety and welfare of our residents. I look forward to an ongoing community discussion on how to best accomplish this while acknowledging the wishes of the community at large.

George Newman

Pitkin County commissioner, District 5