Garfield County commissioners extend moratorium on growing of medical marijuana
Garfield County commissioners on Monday formally extended a moratorium for another year, until June 30, 2012, on any new medical marijuana cultivation operations in unincorporated parts of the county.
The decision comes after the Colorado Legislature last week passed a bill establishing state regulations on all types of medical marijuana operations, effective July 1 of this year.
The bill, which is still awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature, gives local governments the authority to put a moratorium on new operations until local rules and regulations related to zoning and licensing can be established.
Garfield County has had an existing moratorium in effect since June 2010, which has been intended to give county officials time to draw up regulations governing the new industry.
Commissioners then decided to put the question to voters on what types of medical marijuana activities should be allowed and which should not.
In the November 2010 election, county voters opted to prohibit retail marijuana dispensaries and so-called “infused products” manufacturing operations in the county’s jurisdiction.
However, voters agreed to permit growing operations, and the county has started working on new regulations to govern them.
The now-prohibited retail and manufacturing businesses must close their doors by July 1, which was re-affirmed in the resolution passed 3-0 by the commissioners on Monday.
Commissioners said they still need more time to come up with regulations for the growing operations. Any operations that already exist can continue to do so, they said, but no new operations will be allowed until the new rules can be adopted.
One local grower, Brian Radtke, said the county is dragging its feet in coming up with the rules after the voters have spoken on the matter.
“My feeling is that it’s their job to set the zoning before July 1,” he said after the Monday meeting, in reference to the existing moratorium. “They’re just continuing the controversy by doing this.”
Radtke and other growers that were operating since before the original moratorium were assured that they can continue to do so.
But Radtke said he isn’t so sure that protects him under the state’s rules. He asked the county commissioners for a letter to present to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which is handling state licenses for medical marijuana operations.
County Commission Chairman John Martin said the rules of the moratorium allowing existing operations to continue should serve as authorization.
“Our position is that existing grow operations are under review for local regulations,” he said.
Justin Rambo, owner of the Hydroponics Creations dispensary south of Glenwood Springs, will now either have to close his doors or relocate his business to one of the area municipalities.
If the county can’t grant an exemption for retail businesses that existed before the moratorium and subsequent election, he asked that the commissioners at least support him in relocating his business to one of the neighboring municipalities.
Both Glenwood Springs and Carbondale also have moratoriums on new businesses while they sort through their own rules.
“I don’t see any communication between this board and the municipalities,” he said. “You should allow an opportunity for businesses like mine to relocate where voters would prefer us to be.”
Commissioners said Rambo and any other displaced businesses are welcome to approach any municipality, but that it’s not their place to try to influence that process.
The resolution passed Monday also states that if a state or federal court rules that federal drug laws pre-empt or make unlawful Colorado’s medical marijuana code, that all operations must cease.
Recent letters from the U.S. Justice Department have spooked state and local government officials in Colorado and other states that either have approved or are considering legalization of medical marijuana, saying they are not immune from federal prosecution.
Colorado has been working to enact a 2000 voter-approved amendment to the Colorado Constitution, which legalized the growing, sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes.
“We can’t overlook the fact that federal law is on the back burner, and that federal law could be enforced at any time,” Commissioner Mike Samson said.
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