Pitkin County will take up its approach, or lack thereof, to the medical marijuana industry next month in response to a state request for licensing by local jurisdictions.
A Jan. 17 work session has been scheduled for county commissioners to review what has been a hands-off policy when it comes to medical marijuana businesses. They met behind closed doors with county attorney John Ely on Dec. 20 to discuss the issue; the public discussion was subsequently scheduled.
The Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, an arm of the Colorado Department of Revenue, is in the process of licensing medical marijuana businesses across the state. It is looking to local jurisdictions to license businesses within their borders as a necessary step under the state statutes regulating the industry, said Julie Postlethwait, division spokeswoman.
"The statute's pretty clear: The local authority wherever a medical marijuana business is operating must provide us with some approval - that they're OK with medical marijuana being cultivated, used in infused products or sold within their jurisdiction," she said.
Without an approval for each specific business, the state will deny an application for a state license, she said.
That potential ramification - ending a business's ability to operate - prompts the commissioners' call for a full briefing on the issues, according to Commissioner Rachel Richards, who chairs the board.
"I don't think it was the county's intent - that that occur by default," she said.
Though the Jan. 17 meeting is not a public hearing, Richards said she'd like to accommodate feedback from affected business operators during the discussion.
The topic has been dormant since spring, when the county drafted detailed regulations for the medical marijuana industry. Commissioners ultimately shelved them in June, however, after Ely pointed out that dealing in medical marijuana remains a violation of federal law even though it's permitted in Colorado. Asking county employees to issue licenses to marijuana businesses and enforce zoning laws related to medical marijuana puts them in a position of potential criminal liability, he said at the time.
The county, and other local jurisdictions in the state, had until July 1 to establish their own regulations and licensing procedures for the medical marijuana industry, or prohibit such facilities altogether. Pitkin County took neither action, simply letting state standards apply to the businesses.
Though the county has no zoning regulations aimed specifically at marijuana businesses, its zoning code does set restrictions on what sorts of businesses can operate in various places. Unlike the municipalities within its borders, though, the county doesn't issue licenses to businesses.
The state has yet to license any medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated Pitkin County, Aspen or Basalt, according to Postletwait. It is working its way through applications from around Colorado.
Existing and planned operations were required to register with the state by July 1, 2010 and, within the county's jurisdiction - the unincorporated areas - two dispensaries, two makers of infused products and a half-dozen grow sites registered. Most of the dispensaries in the county are located within the city of Aspen, not in unincorporated Pitkin County.
A state moratorium prevents any new operations from opening until July 1, 2012.