GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Medical marijuana growers now operating in the unincorporated parts of Garfield County will not be able to expand into the recreational marijuana trade, under an ordinance passed by the county commissioners Monday.
The board voted 2-1 in favor of an ordinance that will ban all commercial marijuana operations for recreational purposes in areas of Garfield County that lie outside city and town limits.
Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin were in favor of the ordinance, while Commissioner Tom Jankovsky dissented, saying the board should honor the will of the 57 percent of county voters who supported Colorado’s Amendment 64 last November.
The move was made against the objections of local medical marijuana business owners who intend to be among the first to offer recreational sales after the first of the year.
Many of those businesses have their growing facilities in the rural parts of the county, an activity allowed by Garfield County voters in a separate 2010 election related specifically to medical marijuana.
Existing dispensaries have the right under Amendment 64 to apply for licensing to be the first to offer recreational sales starting in January 2014.
To do so, they will need to be able to grow marijuana for recreational sales, said Ron Radtke, owner of the Green Essentials medical marijuana dispensary in Glenwood Springs, which operates a growing facility south of town.
“Recreational marijuana is going to affect our business, because of the competition we’re already up against,” he said.
“I resent that we seem to be having more and more big government, and that government is not listening to the people,” Radtke said in reference to the fact that 57 percent of Garfield County voters, and more than 55 percent statewide, approved Amendment 64 in last fall’s election.
The measure allows anyone age 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It also opened the door for commercial operations to begin growing, selling, manufacturing and testing marijuana products, and to be regulated in a fashion similar to alcohol.
However, counties and municipalities can also opt out by passing ordinances prohibiting such businesses within their boundaries.
Commissioner Samson, who made the motion to approve the ban in unincorporated Garfield County, said he stands opposed to marijuana legalization and that the drug is still ending up in the hands of teenagers, despite regulatory efforts.
“As an educator, I saw the dangers and consequences of alcohol and drug use on our youth and families,” said Samson, a former Rifle High School teacher and administrator.
“The use of marijuana has just leaped incredibly (since medical marijuana was permitted), and it is not good for our society to have such things,” he said.
Commission Chairman Martin agreed.
“My past history in law enforcement and working with drug education is that (marijuana) is a gateway drug,” Martin said. “It is a temptation, or a dare, and to allow this is not a good signal to send.”
Martin also said any marijuana revenues and taxes collected could still be seized under federal banking regulations, and that some neighboring states have threatened to sue Colorado for allowing the distribution of a drug that remains illegal under federal law.
Commissioner Jankovsky said he personally voted against Amendment 64. But he opposed the county ordinance, which he said goes against the will of the majority of voters in the county.
“We had a very strong indication from our voters that they want to see us move forward on this,” Jankovsky said. “We are a representative government.”
Jankovsky also argued that, since county voters have allowed the commercial cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes in unincorporated areas, it makes sense to extend that right to those who want to grow for recreational purposes.
“We’re just going to force all of those grow operations into the municipalities that will allow it,” he said of local municipalities, including Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, which are prepared to allow recreational marijuana businesses within their boundaries.
Glenwood Springs and Carbondale both restrict growing operations to the limited industrial zone districts within their towns.
Aspen attorney Lauren Maytin, a board member for the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws who represents several medical marijuana businesses in Garfield County and throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, joined in asking that the commissioners reject the ban on recreational operations.
“Your community has spoken pretty loudly,” she said. “Your constituents want to allow recreational marijuana because they know it hurts the (illegal) drug cartels, and it helps cash-strapped governments (via tax revenues).”
The county commissioners could still move to put the ordinance to a countywide vote at a future date.