Colorado Marijuana News

Retail pot shop opens in Eagle-Vail

August 4, 2014 — 

EAGLE COUNTY — The Vail Valley’s second retail marijuana shop opens Monday. There will be more in the coming months.

Eagle’s Sweet Leaf Pioneer has been open since spring, and another shop is planned. While every other town in the valley has either banned or delayed licensing for new retail shops, a number of shops are planned for Edwards and Eagle-Vail, both in unincorporated Eagle County.

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Grand County puts off Highland Lumber rezoning decision

July 15, 2014 — 

The Grand County commissioners decided to table a proposal to rezone the former Highland Lumber building on U.S. Highway 40 in Tabernash, which might become a medical-marijuana grow facility.

Wells Fargo Bank took ownership of the 11-acre parcel and building after foreclosing on the owner.

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Grand County planning board says no to proposed marijuana grow facility

July 15, 2014 — 

Grand County Planning Commission voted four to two against issuing a special use permit for a proposed marijuana grow facility near Granby.

The Department of Planning and Zoning recommended the commission approve the permit.

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Grand County commissioners to hear marijuana permit request

July 14, 2014 — 

The Grand County commissioners will conduct a public hearing regarding a special use permit for a marijuana cultivation facility near Granby.

The board will consider the application on Tuesday, July 22, in the Grand County Administration Building in Hot Sulphur Springs.

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Vail pot moratorium moves forward

July 5, 2014 — 

VAIL — While resort towns elsewhere were quick to jump into retail marijuana sales, Vail continues its wait-and-see approach.

The Vail Town Council Tuesday unanimously passed on first reading an ordinance that will extend the town’s current moratorium on retail marijuana sales in town. The town had been working through the spring on perhaps making a final decision on whether or not to ban retail sales in town, facing a self-imposed July 31 deadline.

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Silverthorne Town Council votes to extend hours for retail marijuana shops

June 26, 2014 — 

People looking to purchase marijuana in Silverthorne after sundown are now in luck.

On Wednesday night, the Silverthorne Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance extending the hours of operation at retail marijuana shops. Shops can now operate from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Prior town code required them to lock up by 7 p.m.

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Vail bans retail pot another year

June 17, 2014 — 

VAIL — The Vail town council voted unanimously to extend its temporary ban on retail marijuana for another year in order to gather more information and observe other towns such as Aspen, who have legalized retail sales.

The town had set a self-imposed July 31 deadline to make a decision on retail sales, but council members said the past year has raised too many questions, with not enough time to answer all of them.

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Public hearing on retail pot in Vail is Tuesday

June 16, 2014 — 

VAIL — A public hearing has been scheduled during the Tuesday, June 17 Vail Town Council meeting to continue discussions regarding policy options on the topic of retail marijuana sales. The item is listed sixth on the meeting agenda, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Vail Town Council Chambers.

The Vail Town Council will be reviewing a list of nearly 60 questions and issues forwarded by members of a 16-member working group that has been convened by the town to explore the topic. Representing various organizations throughout the community, the working group has met twice to help shape the public policy discussion.

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Eagle County issues eight retail marijuana licenses

May 16, 2014 — 

EAGLE COUNTY — A longtime local business family landed one of Eagle County’s rare retail marijuana licenses.

Jim and Kristin Comerford will add The Vail Bud Brewery to their roster of local businesses, which includes Subway sandwich shops, Vail’s Qdoba Mexican Grill and a real estate development company. They’ll partner with another local dispensary owner, Dave and Dieneka Manzanares of Sweet Leaf Pioneer in Eagle.

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Avon takes moves to ban retail marijuana

April 28, 2014 — 

AVON — Town Council members took the first step toward banning retail marijuana sales and grow operations at the April 22 meeting, passing on first reading an ordinance that would ban retail and grow operations in town.

The council voted 6-1 for the ban, with council member Jake Wolf casting the lone dissenting vote. In casting his vote, Wolf noted, as he has in the past, that more than 70 percent of town voters in 2012 voted to approve Amendment 64, the state constitutional amendment that legalized the possession and consumption of marijuana by people 21 and older.

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Eagle-Vail dispensary to get first marijuana vending machine

April 28, 2014 — 

EAGLE-VAIL — Greg Honan thinks he might be blazing a new trail in the medical marijuana business. Stephan Shearin hopes he’s right.

Honan is the owner of the Herbal Elements medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle-Vail. He recently partnered with Tranzbyte, a company specializing in the technology of marijuana, to put the first ZaZZZ vending machine in the dispensary.

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Tabernash resident floats ideas for marijuana co-op

April 24, 2014 — 

TABERNASH — Agritourism is new a way to experience Colorado’s unique heritage, and now a Grand County group is trying to combine it with another of the state’s fascinations – legalized marijuana.

“We have fabulous marijuana at this altitude,” said Susan Kuglitsch, of Tabernash, a proponent of cannabis agritourism in Grand County. “That secret will get out quick. We’d like to (promote enjoying) it responsibly in a nice family setting.”

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Colorado advances edible marijuana restrictions

April 18, 2014 — 

DENVER — A Colorado proposal to widen a ban on certain types of edible marijuana advanced Thursday in the state House amid concerns that it could be too broad.

What lawmakers are trying to prevent is accidental ingestion by children who can’t tell the difference between a regular cookie or gummy bear and the kinds infused with cannabis. Lawmakers also worry that officials won’t be able to know when students have marijuana at school when the drug is in the form of an edible.

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Police: Student ate more pot than recommended

April 18, 2014 — 

DENVER — Authorities say a Wyoming college student who jumped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony ate more than the recommended serving of a marijuana cookie.

Police reports released Thursday said 19-year-old Levy Thamba Pongi consumed a little more than one cookie that his friend purchased from a pot shop.

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Medical marijuana ban fails in town of Red Cliff

April 2, 2014 — 

RED CLIFF — Voters here Tuesday retained two town council members and rejected a proposed ban on medical marijuana operations.

Anuschka Bales and Tom Henderson, both current board members, were both elected to four-year terms. But the election still leaves the seven-member board short two people. Town clerk Barb Smith said the town will post the vacancies, with a 30-day period for interested people to apply for the board positions.

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County receives marijuana license applications

March 25, 2014 — 

EAGLE COUNTY — At the Sweet Leaf Pioneer medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle, Dieneka Manzanares gets calls and visitors just about every day. Many are tourists, looking to buy legal marijuana while on vacation to the Vail Valley. Right now, she has to turn them all away.

Those calls and visits are familiar to Murphy Murray, the co-owner and general manager of the Tree Line dispensary in Eagle-Vail.

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Granby medical workers unknowingly ingest THC in holiday treats

March 24, 2014 — 

GRANBY — A batch of drug-laced Chex-Mix delivered to Middle Park Medical Center staff around Christmastime has tested positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical compound found in marijuana, according to Granby Police Chief Bill Housley.

Though the department knows who delivered the treats and has transferred the case to the District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution, Housley said the District Attorney’s Office is inclined not to prosecute the case due to a lack of intent to deliver the THC-laced treats to the hospital staff.

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Summit County sheriff's marijuana FAQ hits the street

March 25, 2014 — 

Last week, the Summit County Commission and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office released information to help residents and visitors better understand requirements related to the use, purchase and possession of marijuana in unincorporated Summit County since the passage of Amendment 64.

Summit County Sheriff John Minor attended the commission’s most recent workshop on Tuesday, March 18, where he presented a draft document containing frequently asked questions about marijuana. Minor asked the commissioners to sign off on the draft, saying the FAQs would serve as the office’s cornerstone document regarding public use of marijuana.

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FBI balks at marijuana background checks in Washington, but not Colorado

March 14, 2014 — 

SEATTLE — The FBI is refusing to run nationwide background checks on people applying to run legal marijuana businesses in Washington state, even though it has conducted similar checks in Colorado — a discrepancy that illustrates the quandary the Justice Department faces as it allows the states to experiment with regulating a drug that’s long been illegal under federal law.

Washington state has been asking for nearly a year if the FBI would conduct background checks on its applicants, to no avail. The bureau’s refusal raises the possibility that people with troublesome criminal histories could wind up with pot licenses in the state — undermining the department’s own priorities in ensuring that states keep a tight rein on the nascent industry.

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Western Slope police officers watch weed industry evolve

March 14, 2014 — 

This is the final part in a two-part series focusing on marijuana law enforcement and education.

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Recreational pot is here — now what?

March 13, 2014 — 

Editor’s note: This is the first part in a two-part series about the effects of legalized marijuana on children and law enforcement agencies.

EAGLE COUNTY — Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo hugged Silverpeak Apothecary owner Jordan Lewis just before the store made its first recreational marijuana sale March 5.

“I’m glad you’re doing this,” DiSalvo told him. “This is a big deal for all of us. You’re doing this the right way — this is the model.”

It was a sight that might have seemed normal in Aspen, but it was still a sight that made you scratch your head a little bit. A sheriff hugging a pot shop owner — you don’t see that every day.

Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws, which were written, rewritten and revised throughout 2013, took effect Jan. 1 of this year. Since then, law enforcement agencies around the state have been adjusting to the times, with many chiefs and sheriffs reacting with less enthusiasm or optimism than DiSalvo has.

But DiSalvo feels he has no reason to respond any other way. The two dispensaries that were the first to open in Pitkin County for recreational sales — Stash and the Silverpeak Apothecary, both on March 5 — were responsible throughout the entire application process, DiSalvo said.

“I think they waited to do it right and I think that’s a big part of why I feel a little more comfortable,” he said. “I just want it to be done right.”

A right to weed

“Nobody wakes up at 9 a.m. to buy weed.”

That’s what Bryan Welker, of Carbondale, said after becoming the first person to buy legal recreational marijuana in Pitkin County March 5. It was 9:30 a.m. and Stash, located in the Aspen Business Center in unincorporated Pitkin County, had been open for recreational sales for 30 minutes. Only a handful of customers had walked through the doors by mid-morning, though.

Welker handles marketing for the business and arrived that morning to snap a few pictures. When he saw no one in line, he immediately realized he had the opportunity to become a part of Pitkin County history.

“So, I took that opportunity,” he said with a smile.

It was an exciting time for the store’s owners and employees. The guy checking IDs in the foyer area struggled to get his ID swipe machine to work, but other than that it was smooth sailing. Customers, most of whom did not look like stereotypical potheads, trickled through the doors all morning to buy marijuana.

A couple in their 60s came in, donning designer ski gear including a Descente jacket and a Gucci belt. They curiously looked at the display cases and quickly asked a staff member for help choosing the right marijuana products to smoke through an electronic smoking device.

The Texas couple has a second home in Aspen and wanted to stock up before skiing Aspen Mountain for the day. They didn’t want their names published, because “you never know who, of your friends up here, would be totally against this,” the woman said softly in a Southern accent.

Her husband said they hadn’t tried marijuana in 35 years and wanted to experiment again. They chose the electronic device because they don’t like the smell of weed or the idea that it might coat their clothing or furniture when smoked.

Weed on the brain

An Aspen mother of two, Jenn, came in around 9:45 a.m. after dropping her kids off at ski school for the day. The 40-something mom, who didn’t want her last name published, said she used to protest for marijuana legalization 20 years ago while attending college in Northern California. She made her purchase and was thrilled to finally exercise her right, she said.

While her children are not old enough yet, Jenn knows that she’ll someday be the one to educate them about substances like alcohol and marijuana. She admits she feels more guarded about legal marijuana than others might because she’s a mother. She questions whether the legal purchase age of 21 is too young since research shows that brains are still developing up to 25 years old.

That’s a point that DiSalvo and the Valley Marijuana Council, a group organized by DiSalvo made up of community and business leaders, want to drive home. The group has been working to promote marijuana education for children in the Roaring Fork Valley as legal recreational marijuana integrates into the community.

“The main message is, ‘It’s not for (children) — delay, delay, delay; put this off as long as you can,’” DiSalvo said. “If you can make it past 21, you’ve done yourself a big favor. … This is not a product for children. We have to keep hammering that home like we do with alcohol, driving, coffee — all the things we don’t want kids to do when they’re developing.”

In a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin about the impacts of alcohol and marijuana on the young brain, early marijuana use points to severe cognitive consequences.

“Converging lines of evidence suggest that regular use of marijuana, starting before 18, is associated with increased deficits in poorer attention, visual search, reduced overall or verbal IQ, and executive functioning,” the report states.

Colorado Teen Weed Brain is another group that formed in the Roaring Fork Valley to tackle this very subject. The group hosts educational forums to spread the word to parents and children in the community that marijuana, although legal, is not OK for kids. Their next meeting features a panel of medical and industry professionals on April 17 at Carbondale Middle School.

Roaring Fork School District spokeswoman Sheryl Barto said school principals have been reporting increased use and availability of marijuana since the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“Much of this is what students are reporting and what adults are observing; we haven’t yet seen statistical confirmation,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if we find spikes when we do our annual health surveys.”

School district officials had tried to examine discipline data over the past few years to determine whether there were changes in disciplinary action since medical marijuana was legalized, but data samples were too small, she said.

The 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a risk behavior survey of middle and high school students in Colorado done every two years, shows that marijuana use had not increased among high school students since medical marijuana became legal. Results from the 2013 survey are not yet available.

While things are running pretty smoothly in Breckenridge, where Police Chief Shannon Haynes said there hasn’t been an increase in marijuana-related issues since recreational shops opened in town at the beginning of the year, she still has concerns about local children and teenagers.

Still illegal for children

“That’s my only fear, I think, in this whole big picture,” she said. “Sometimes we lose sight of the education piece that is so important for our youth. Because of the medical piece and being around that for a couple of years, I think our youth starts to think of this as not an intoxicating substance like alcohol. We have to work hard to ensure we’re education our young people about the risk.”

Haynes said that’s happening in Summit County — that schools, social services and nonprofits are partnering together to spread the message. She’s encouraged by results in the community, too. Between the start of ski season and the end of December, she said Breckenridge issued 15 tickets to minors openly consuming marijuana.

“But it’s dropped off drastically since Jan. 1,” she said.

The Eagle River Youth Coalition, a nonprofit in Eagle County that works with schools and youth throughout the region on reducing substance abuse, has multiple efforts underway to prevent marijuana use. A program in its pilot stage at Berry Creek Middle School, called Project Alert, was so successful last fall that it will be growing this year, the coalition’s executive director Michelle Hartel Stecher said. For high schools, a similar program called Project Towards No Drug Abuse is also successfully underway. Both programs teach students about drugs during health classes at school.

There are no recreational marijuana stores open yet in Eagle County, but the coalition is already well prepared for challenges relating to the new industry.

“The biggest shift we’re seeing is that kids are reporting that marijuana is less harmful,” Hartel Stecher said. “When less harm is perceived, typically kids will start doing that behavior more. … Another shift we’re seeing is that they’re reporting it’s easier to get, so that’s concerning for us.”

In Eagle County, surveys show that kids report that “someone gave it to me” as the most common way they access marijuana, she said.

The news has prompted new programs for parents, such as parent education workshops that teach parents how to handle conversations about drugs with their teenage children. The next program is six sessions, spread over six weeks, beginning April 7.

At the Eagle County School District, which also works closely with the Eagle River Youth Coalition, lessons about drugs focus on the consequences of drug use so students can make the right decisions, said spokesman Dan Dougherty. Instruction has also adapted with the times as educators see new issues to be concerned about.

“The legalization of marijuana has elevated the sophistication of the drug culture — vapor cigarettes can be adapted for marijuana, prescription inhalers, the odor is being reduced and/or eliminated to make it harder to detect — so our instruction is responding to include these new techniques,” Dougherty said. “This has a two-fold effect: it conveys that we know what is going on (and how to catch wrong doing), and warns them of what to be leery of.”

Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson likes the community collaboration he’s seeing in response to legalized marijuana, but he’s not so sure the true effects of legalized marijuana will be known for some time. When medical marijuana was legalized, he was pleasantly surprised that his department saw a lot less trouble with it than anticipated. He said there was, however, “a proliferation of 16-year-olds showing up at high school smoked out of their gourds.”

“I truly don’t believe we’re going to understand the consequences for 10 to 20 years,” Wilson said. “Are we going to raise a generation of people less developed and less productive because of allowances we’re making? The answer scares me.”

Read tomorrow’s paper for part 2, which looks at the law enforcement side of legalized marijuana.

Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at lglendenning@cmnm.org or 970-777-3125.

Vail Resorts issues statement on mountain ‘smoke shacks’

March 12, 2014 — 

VAIL — When a structure on the ski hill comes down, for many it’s a sad moment.

Whether it’s Two Elk, destroyed illegally in 1998, or Jaz’s Cabin, destroyed in the name of the law in 2012, it’s been said it’s like losing a close friend or family member. Breckenridge skiers felt that sadness this week with the destruction of their beloved “Leo’s” cabin, but the dynamite used to destroy it was only the beginning of the explosion, as social media sites blew up with activity in response and Vail Resorts issued a press release on the matter.

But long-time local residents in Vail say this is nothing new — shack builders have been putting up secret structures, and the Forest Service has been tearing them down, since the ’60s. Places like the fabled Tuck ‘em Inn, or the Ice Bar on Vail Mountain come to mind.

Vail legend Bill Whiteford is mentioned in Vail’s 50th anniversary movie, “The Rise of America’s Iconic Ski Resort,” where his Ice Bar structure on Vail Mountain was not only erected illegally, it was profitable.

“We went up there at night, gathered ice blocks, built the ice bar at night and opened it during the day,” an unnamed accomplice says in the movie. “It was a howling success.”

Guilt by association

The Ice Bar was eventually torn down — as was the Tuck ‘em Inn, with its wood floors and silk sheets — and countless others since.

So, why the press release this time? It’s the structures’ link to marijuana that has Vail Resorts officials on edge, and the jargon applied to them hasn’t helped, either.

The structures are “commonly referred to as ‘smoke shacks,’” Russ Pecoraro, director of Vail Resorts communications wrote in the release, adding that they are “associated with prohibited marijuana use.”

Although the release references illegal structures and not marijuana in its headline, the statement was less about the shacks, and more about how the resort is going to handle marijuana on the slopes, Pecoraro said.

“I think the impression a lot of people are getting from the media is that you can come out here and consume marijuana on our slopes and we are here to tell you, you can’t do that. (The press release) is an example of what me mean,” Pecoraro said.

Some shacks survive

Breckenridge officials said a hidden-camera report about marijuana smoking at Leo’s — featured on Inside Edition in February — accelerated the cabin’s demise. But Leo’s was targeted to be destroyed anyway, Breckenridge Resort wrote on their official Facebook page, so it was just a matter of time. Structures on Vail Mountain have been destroyed nearly every spring during the past few years, including a 20-foot tall tree house in the spring of 2011. Structures such as the tree house at Vail and Leo’s at Breck, some of them are quite impressive.

However, “the long and short of it is, it’s illegal to build these structures without a permit on National Forest land, so we’re there to uphold our end of the bargain with the Forest Service,” Pecoraro said. “It’s this game, where we tear them down, and they build them back up.”

But not every shack on Vail Moutain will be destroyed, Pecoraro added.

“There are a couple that are historical sites,” he said. “We need to figure out a different way to approach those, whether it’s boarding them up or whatever ... We have talked at a high-level that these cases are out there, but I don’t know exactly where they are located.”

WHAT ABOUT BOOZE?

Pecoraro said safety on the mountain is the resort’s top priority, and acknowledged that many are asking the question “what about alcohol?”

“The difference with alcohol is also we have people serving in bars who are certified and trained not to over serve folks,” he said.

The resort plans to step-up enforcement of any kind of skiing under the influence, alcohol or marijuana, Pecoraro said. Pecoraro said he didn’t know the measures that will used to determine what constitutes “under the influence,” but those determined to be under the influence risk legal issues as well as resort penalties.

“We are going to report folks to ski patrol or security. We are going to pull your pass. We are going to kick you off the mountain, and if law enforcement happens to be there when we do that, you’re going to get cited as well,” he said.

Is legal marijuana harming Colorado business?

March 12, 2014 — 

EAGLE COUNTY — Led Gardner is worried.

Gardner, a broker with Slifer Smith & Frampton, is concerned that legal marijuana in Colorado may prompt some people ­— specifically some of the valley’s high-end clients — to take their business elsewhere.

Gardner isn’t alone in that concern, but he has a first-hand story to tell. He’s been showing expensive property to a family from the eastern part of the U.S. and in an email wrote that family members are concerned about the atmosphere legal marijuana is creating in what they believe is a “family-friendly” resort.

“They told me it might not be wise to buy here because of the law,” Gardner said.

Gardner was particularly concerned when the Vail Daily put news about marijuana on the front page, a sentiment echoed by other brokers.

“It plays into fears many of our clients have,” he said. “There are a number of instances I’ve heard about from other people.”

SOME SAY FEARS OVERBLOWN

But other people in the business of catering to high-end clients believe those fears are overblown.

“I haven’t heard a word in here except my husband joking about it,” Sunny Smith said. Smith’s husband, Shelton, owns the Shelton Smith Collection, a gallery of high-end art and artifacts near the Covered Bridge on Bridge Street.

The gallery, like many shops selling expensive things, relies on building relationships with people. And, Smith said, she hasn’t heard any of those people mention the law at all.

Craig Denton hasn’t heard anything, either. Denton, a broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Colorado Properties who specializes in resort property, acknowledges that he went to college at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1970s, so he may have a more live-and-let-live attitude about marijuana use. But, he said, none of his clients have mentioned the law.

“Do they think it doesn’t exist elsewhere? It’s been around forever,” Denton said of people who may worry about legal marijuana.

‘HARDLY ANY DIFFERENT’

Ron Byrne, owner of a Vail-based real estate company that bears his name, has been selling expensive real estate in the valley for decades, but describes himself as “an old hippie” and “a rock ‘n’ roller from Detroit.” But, Byrne said, none of his clients have mentioned the law, either.

“It’s so controlled, it’s hardly any different than it was before,” Byrne said. “By putting it front and center ... that may make it slightly safer.”

Bryne said the current publicity about the law may end up being “much ado about nothing” — that the opening of a new shop in a few years won’t raise eyebrows any more than the opening of a new liquor store.

Gardner agreed with Byrne on that point. But the here and now is a different situation.

THOSE WHO VOTED ‘NO’

While Colorado voters in 2012 decisively passed Amendment 64 — the amendment to the state constitution that legalized the use and sale of marijuana for recreational use — more than 40 percent of state voters said “no” to the measure. A significant number of locals disagreed, and many are saying the same things Gardner is now.

“I’m being asked about it by families who could just as easily got to Park City,” Gardner said. “And what do you say to your high schooler who says, ‘It’s OK (to use pot) — it’s legal,’” Gardner said. “The issue is why would we want to sensationalize it?”

Retail reefer sales brisk in market’s first month

March 12, 2014 — 

DENVER – In their first month of legality, Colorado’s reefer retailers sold $45 million in legal reefer, and generated $3.5 million in tax and fee revenue for the state.

According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, January saw $14 million in legal reefer sales to adults, and another $31 million in medical marijuana sales.

January’s legal reefer pumped $2.1 million to Colorado’s state coffers in tax and fee revenue. Medical cannabis taxes and fees added another $1.4 million, according to the Department of Revenue data.

Eagle County, which doesn’t yet have retail marijuana sales, saw $4,141 in sales taxes on $276,066 in medical marijuana sales, the Department of Revenue report said. That’s not much of a dent in Eagle County total January sales tax revenue, $2,492,381.

Eagle County and towns have several medical marijuana shops, but so far no reefer retailers.

Eagle County has room for eight reefer retailers, and while some medical marijuana shops have discusses the possibility of retail sales, none have yet finished applying for one of those eight licenses, according to the county’s community development department.

The Front Rangers

On the Front Range, though, cannabis companies are ecstatic.

“The month of January showed the world that taking marijuana off the streets and putting it behind a taxed, regulated counter can be done professionally, productively, and prosperously,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

In Colorado, 59 cannabis companies sell legal reefer. They pay a 10 percent special sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax, approved by Colorado voters last November.

Gov. John Hickenlooper projected that combined sales from both legal medical and recreational marijuana could hit nearly $1 billion in the first year, about $600 million from recreational sales. The state would collect at least $134 million in taxes and fees.

The numbers will get bigger, with more than 150 recreational marijuana dispensaries now licensed around the state, and more being added.

The Cannabis Kids

Cannabis advocates, including three members of Congress — Rep. Jared Polis will be among them — are so encouraged that they’re storming the Bastille, heading to Washington, D.C., to try to convince lawmakers that because Colorado’s first month worked so well, they should kill the federal prohibition.

“It’s time for Congress to reconcile outdated federal laws with those of states like Colorado that have decided to opt out of the failed experiment of marijuana prohibition,” Smith said.

Polis is the lead sponsor of a bill that would do just do that. The Ending Federal Prohibition Act — HR-499 — would lift the federal prohibition on marijuana, allowing local, county and state governments to regulate marijuana as they currently do alcohol.

The cannabis advocates make their case Thursday morning in the Cannon House Office Building with a briefing on the growing support for the legal cannabis industry.

Polis inserted a provision into the Farm Bill that legalized growing industrial hemp in states where marijuana is legal — so far Colorado and Washington. Even though he voted against the Farm Bill, it passed and was signed into law with that provision in it.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

State launches campaign to discourage pot-impaired driving

March 8, 2014 — 

EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado made history when we became the first state to legalize marijuana, but the Colorado Department of Transportation wants you to understand that driving under the influence of anything except good karma is a monumentally bad idea.

That includes the newly legalized marijuana, said Amy Ford, CDOT’s communications director.

“We did extensive research about medical and recreational marijuana users’ perceptions of marijuana’s effects on driving,” Ford said. “We heard repeatedly that people thought marijuana didn’t impact their driving ability. Some believed it actually made them a better driver.”

Impaired is illegal

It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, of course, the same as it’s illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance, Ford said.

“We have been providing CDOT with a voice from the marijuana community,” said Michael Elliott, Marijuana Industry Group executive director. “We want this new industry to thrive, and the best way to do that is to ensure marijuana users and the industry understands the laws and regulations, and consumes marijuana responsibly.”

The DUI limit is 0.08 blood-alcohol limit. Get caught driving with 5 nanograms of active THC in your whole blood, and you’ll be prosecuted for a DUI. However, law enforcement officers base arrests on observed impairment, not the level of THC, Ford said.

A DUI will cost you just over $10,000 in court costs and attorneys fees. Driving high will cost you about the same.

“As Coloradans now have more access to marijuana, we want them to be aware that law enforcement is trained to identify impairment by all categories of drugs and alcohol,” said Col. Scott Hernandez, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “Drug recognition experts are highly trained law enforcement officers who can detect the impairment of drugs and today we celebrate the graduation of more than 20 new DREs in the state.”

Using marijuana medically can also result in a DUI, Hernandez said. If a substance has impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle it is illegal for you to be driving, even if that substance is prescribed or legally acquired.

In 2012, there were 630 drivers involved in 472 motor vehicle fatalities in Colorado. Of the 630 drivers involved, 286 were tested for drugs. Nearly 27 percent of drivers tested positive, and 12 percent testing positive for cannabis.

When combining substances, there is a greater degree of impairment. If a driver is under the influence of alcohol, their risk of a fatal crash is 13 times higher than the risk of a sober driver. If the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increases to 24 times that of a sober driver, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Grand County commissioners seek clarity on marijuana science

February 27, 2014 — 

Hot Sulphur Springs — County officials are working to clear the haze of marijuana confusion before they tamp down their marijuana employee policy.

During their regular public meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25, the board of county commissioners had Sarah Urfer of ChemaTox Laboratory, Inc. provide some clarification to the murkiness of marijuana use. She provided insight on best testing practices, how to determine impairment and how to develop policy.

Marijuana may now be legal for adults in Colorado, regulated similar to alcohol, but that’s about where the similarities between the two substances end. County commissioners and staff all agree having workers stoned on the job is unacceptable, but proving an employee is high isn’t as simple as a roadside test or blowing into a breathalyzer.

“It’s not like alcohol, it doesn’t eliminate the same way,” Urfer told commissioners.

For drug testing, employers often use blood or urine testing to determine if tetrahydrocannbinol, or THC, was present in the body. THC is the psychoactive substance in cannabis plants that causes a person to get high. According to Urfer, THC will only remain in a person’s system for around one to four hours, regardless of how much marijuana was ingested.

But THC also leaves behind a telling metabolite as the body processes it. Although both urine and blood testing are commonly used to find the metabolite, Urfer has a strong preference on which type of test she prefers.

“Blood, blood, blood,” she told commissioners. “I don’t want to ever see another urine sample as long as I live.”

That’s because urine samples only indicate use within the last 1 to 4 weeks. With blood, tests can usually determine if a person was high within the last 24 hours.

County staff also brought up concerns about prolonged marijuana use affecting employees’ productivity levels, even if they’re never high at work. Urfer explained these concerns aren’t unfounded. As THC moves through the body, its metabolites bind to the brain.

For marijuana chronic users, this can lead to a tolerance of some of the drug’s side effects, like memory loss and the munchies, but “unfortunately, that (also) means they have a chronic central nervous system depressant in the body, which slows them down,” Urfer said. “It can cause depression, slow reaction time (and) issues with perception.”

For adults, however, these effects are reversible within one to six months once a person stops consuming marijuana. But Urfer stressed that in children under 18, marijuana causes permanent brain damage.

The nuances surrounding marijuana use have baffled lawmakers in other areas as well. Urfer was a key source for the Colorado state legislature as state officials drafted up new DUI regulations. Legislators finally settled on a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as the legal limit in determining if a driver is impaired. Urfer took issue with that level however, explaining to Grand County commissioners that impairment for most people starts at 1 nanogram per milliliter.

“There was some serious confusion in the legislature about the (scientific) literature,” she explained.

Urfer said that in her opinion, lawmakers ultimately attempted to compromise by selecting a high number that’s essentially made up and not based on sound science.

Beyond consulting policymakers, Urfer has had her plate full since her lab took over much of the state’s blood-alcohol and blood-drug testing. Toxicology analysis at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was suspended last July, and terminated altogether in October, after public concerns over the accuracy of their testing. An independent lab later verified the state’s testing integrity, but CDPHE officials decided not to resume testing at the state lab. They found private labs like ChemaTox had done an adequate job handling the state’s testing needs, at more competitive prices.

With all her expertise, Urfer’s ultimate recommendation for the county’s marijuana employee policy was simple – zero tolerance.

“Because of the complications we just talked about … it has always been my recommendation to people concerned about impairment on the job that they just not allow marijuana, period, to avoid any argument later,” Urfer said.

Commissioners are taking Urfer’s insight into consideration, but have yet to adopt any formal policy.

Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

Commissioners seek clarity on marijuana science

February 27, 2014 — 

Hot Sulphur Springs — County officials are working to clear the haze of marijuana confusion before they tamp down their marijuana employee policy.

During their regular public meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25, the board of county commissioners had Sarah Urfer of ChemaTox Laboratory, Inc. provide some clarification to the murkiness of marijuana use. She provided insight on best testing practices, how to determine impairment and how to develop policy.

Marijuana may now be legal for adults in Colorado, regulated similar to alcohol, but that’s about where the similarities between the two substances end. County commissioners and staff all agree having workers stoned on the job is unacceptable, but proving an employee is high isn’t as simple as a roadside test or blowing into a breathalyzer.

“It’s not like alcohol, it doesn’t eliminate the same way,” Urfer told commissioners.

For drug testing, employers often use blood or urine testing to determine if tetrahydrocannbinol, or THC, was present in the body. THC is the psychoactive substance in cannabis plants that causes a person to get high. According to Urfer, THC will only remain in a person’s system for around one to four hours, regardless of how much marijuana was ingested.

But THC also leaves behind a telling metabolite as the body processes it. Although both urine and blood testing are commonly used to find the metabolite, Urfer has a strong preference on which type of test she prefers.

“Blood, blood, blood,” she told commissioners. “I don’t want to ever see another urine sample as long as I live.”

That’s because urine samples only indicate use within the last 1 to 4 weeks. With blood, tests can usually determine if a person was high within the last 24 hours.

County staff also brought up concerns about prolonged marijuana use affecting employees’ productivity levels, even if they’re never high at work. Urfer explained these concerns aren’t unfounded. As THC moves through the body, its metabolites bind to the brain.

For marijuana chronic users, this can lead to a tolerance of some of the drug’s side effects, like memory loss and the munchies, but “unfortunately, that (also) means they have a chronic central nervous system depressant in the body, which slows them down,” Urfer said. “It can cause depression, slow reaction time (and) issues with perception.”

For adults, however, these effects are reversible within one to six months once a person stops consuming marijuana. But Urfer stressed that in children under 18, marijuana causes permanent brain damage.

The nuances surrounding marijuana use have baffled lawmakers in other areas as well. Urfer was a key source for the Colorado state legislature as state officials drafted up new DUI regulations. Legislators finally settled on a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as the legal limit in determining if a driver is impaired. Urfer took issue with that level however, explaining to Grand County commissioners that impairment for most people starts at 1 nanogram per milliliter.

“There was some serious confusion in the legislature about the (scientific) literature,” she explained.

Urfer said that in her opinion, lawmakers ultimately attempted to compromise by selecting a high number that’s essentially made up and not based on sound science.

Beyond consulting policymakers, Urfer has had her plate full since her lab took over much of the state’s blood-alcohol and blood-drug testing. Toxicology analysis at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was suspended last July, and terminated altogether in October, after public concerns over the accuracy of their testing. An independent lab later verified the state’s testing integrity, but CDPHE officials decided not to resume testing at the state lab. They found private labs like ChemaTox had done an adequate job handling the state’s testing needs, at more competitive prices.

With all her expertise, Urfer’s ultimate recommendation for the county’s marijuana employee policy was simple – zero tolerance.

“Because of the complications we just talked about … it has always been my recommendation to people concerned about impairment on the job that they just not allow marijuana, period, to avoid any argument later,” Urfer said.

Commissioners are taking Urfer’s insight into consideration, but have yet to adopt any formal policy.

Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

First Colo. county reports its marijuana taxes

February 25, 2014 — 

DENVER — A southern Colorado county with two recreational marijuana stores has become the first in the state to announce tax totals from the new industry.

Pueblo County finance authorities announced Monday that its two shops had about $1 million in total sales in January, producing about $56,000 in local sales taxes.

Pueblo County is the only place between Denver and the New Mexico state line that currently allows recreational pot stores. Its two shops were joined by three more that opened in February.

“We recognize that the eyes of the world are watching us, and we are proud to have erected a robust regulatory environment in Pueblo County,” County Commissioner Sal Pace said in a statement Tuesday.

Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz projected the marijuana industry will generate roughly $670,000 in new tax revenue for his county this year. The money is a combination of a 3.5 percent pot sales tax approved by county voters last year, as well as “share-backs” from the state on general and pot-specific sales taxes.

If Pueblo’s sales continue at the January pace, the county’s pot industry will make about $11.2 million in gross sales in 2014, Ortiz projected. The county’s total budget is about $165 million a year.

Colorado has more than 160 licensed recreational pot stores, all of whom had to report sales taxes Feb. 20. Most of the stores are in Denver County, which hasn’t yet reported its January tax haul.

Pueblo County is the first local government to make its recreational marijuana sales tax totals public. Statewide totals are expected early next month.

Pueblo officials joked about the pot tax haul Monday in a county finance meeting.

“The irony is that the only new revenue we have coming in is in marijuana, and yet we have to open a new judicial building,” Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen quipped, according to a report Tuesday in The (Pueblo) Chieftain.

County Budget and Finance Director Cal Hamler replied, “We’re going to have to sell more weed.”

Governor: Colorado marijuana market exceeds tax hopes

February 19, 2014 — 

DENVER — Colorado’s legal marijuana market is far exceeding tax expectations, according to a budget proposal released Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper that gives the first official estimate of how much the state expects to make from pot taxes.

The proposal outlines plans to spend some $99 million next fiscal year on substance abuse prevention, youth marijuana use prevention and other priorities. The money would come from a statewide 12.9 percent sales tax on recreational pot. Colorado’s total pot sales next fiscal year are estimated to be about $610 million.

Retail sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado. Sales have been strong, though exact figures for January sales won’t be made public until early next month.

The governor predicted sales and excise taxes next fiscal year would produce some $98 million, well above a $70 million annual estimate given to voters when they approved the pot taxes last year. The governor also includes taxes from medical pot, which are subject only to the statewide 2.9 percent sales tax.

Washington state budget forecasters released a projection Wednesday for that state, where retail sales don’t begin for a few months.

Economic forecasters in Olympia predicted that the state’s new legal recreational marijuana market will bring nearly $190 million to state coffers over four years starting in mid-2015. Washington state sets budgets biennially.

In Colorado, Hickenlooper’s proposal listed six priorities for spending the pot sales taxes.

The spending plan included $45.5 million for youth use prevention, $40.4 million for substance abuse treatment and $12.4 million for public health.

“We view our top priority as creating an environment where negative impacts on children from marijuana legalization are avoided completely,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to legislative budget writers, which must approve the plan.

The governor also proposed a $5.8 million, three-year “statewide media campaign on marijuana use,” presumably highlighting the drug’s health risks. The state Department of Transportation would get $1.9 million for a new “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign to tout the state’s new marijuana blood-limit standard for drivers.

Also, Hickenlooper has proposed spending $7 million for an additional 105 beds in residential treatment centers for substance abuse disorders.

“This package represents a strong yet cautious first step” for regulating pot, the governor wrote. He told lawmakers he’d be back with a more complete spending prediction later this year.

The Colorado pot tax plan doesn’t include an additional 15 percent pot excise tax, of which $40 million a year already is designated for school construction. The governor projected the full $40 million to be reached next year.

The initial tax projections are rosier than those given to voters in 2012, when state fiscal projections on the marijuana-legalization amendment would produce $39.5 million in sales taxes next fiscal year, which begins in July.

The rosier projections come from updated data about how many retail stores Colorado has (163 as of Feb. 18) and how much customers are paying for pot. There’s no standardized sales price, but recreational pot generally is going for much more than the $202 an ounce forecasters guessed last year.

Mason Tvert, a legalization activist who ran Colorado’s 2012 campaign, said other states are watching closely to see what legal weed can produce in tax revenue.

“Voters and state lawmakers around the country are watching how this system unfolds in Colorado, and the prospect of generating significant revenue while eliminating the underground marijuana market is increasingly appealing,” said Tvert, who now works for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Meanwhile, The Denver Post reported Wednesday that banks holding commercial loans on properties that lease to Colorado marijuana businesses say they don’t plan to refinance those loans when they come due. Bankers say property used as collateral for those loans theoretically is subject to federal drug-seizure laws, which makes the loans a risk.

Colorado’s two largest banks, Wells Fargo Bank and FirstBank, say they won’t offer new loans to landowners with pre-existing leases with pot businesses. And Wells Fargo and Vectra Bank have told commercial loan clients they either have to evict marijuana businesses or seek refinancing elsewhere.

“Our policy of not banking marijuana-related businesses and not lending on commercial properties leased by marijuana-related businesses is based on applicable federal laws,” Wells Fargo spokeswoman Cristie Drumm told the Post.

———

Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.

Marijuana legalization plan stalls in New Mexico

February 7, 2014 — 

SANTA FE, N.M. — A proposal to allow New Mexico voters to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana stalled Friday, putting the measure in doubt — for now.

At a disjointed meeting, the Senate Rules Committee failed to debate the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for the possession and personal use of marijuana for those 21 years of age and older.

Instead, committee members got bogged down in debates over a minimum wage proposal and a measure to change election laws.

The failure to bring up the marijuana proposal angered a handful of activists, some from out of state, who sat through the meeting for a chance to speak up in support of legalizing marijuana in New Mexico.

The proposal’s sponsor, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, said he hopes the committee debates the measure next week. If not, he wasn’t sure whether there was enough time before the legislative session ends Feb. 20.

“We have a chance to get it passed,” he said. “But it’s going to take a lot of work.”

It’s unclear how much support the measure has in the Senate Rules Committee.

If lawmakers approve the proposed constitutional amendment the question would be decided by voters in the general election.

However, the plan is likely to face difficulty in the Legislature, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez opposes marijuana legalization.

Colorado and Washington state have legalized marijuana. Pot stores opened in Colorado last month, and sales are expected to start in Washington later this year.

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