TELLURIDE – The San Miguel County Commissioners last week approved a series of local licensing regulations for marijuana cultivation and retail sales in unincorporated areas of the county. The commissioners gave county planning director Mike Rozycki the go-ahead to start drafting land use code amendments, which would determine where approved marijuana operations would be allowed.
The regulations outlined in Wednesday’s resolution largely focus on cultivation facilities because potential commercial growers are eyeing the cheaper, larger property available in unincorporated areas. But retail businesses that wish to sell retail marijuana will be required to obtain both state and San Miguel County licenses.
The approved resolution appointed the commissioners as the local licensing authority, but they can later appoint county planning director Mike Rozycki as the licensing authority.
The county will issue four categories of licenses: for manufacturing facilities, retail stores, cultivation facilities and testing facilities. While retail shops could open as early as Jan. 1, the commissioners agreed that retail marijuana shops should be allowed only where they are approved, which, at this point, is Telluride.
The county regulations stipulate that marijuana businesses must be located no less than 1,000 feet from schools, colleges, childcare facilities and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. “Eventually this distance requirement can come under a review process for requested variance, but for now, I’d like to play it safe,” said Goodtimes, who introduced the idea of imposing a 1,000-foot proximity rule, saying that because the commissioners were creating the first rules for the county on marijuana commerce, he’d prefer to regulate marijuana the way alcohol is regulated.
While marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the commissioners voted to adopt eight priorities on marijuana enforcement outlined in an August 29 memorandum from the United States Department of Justice. The priorities include prohibiting sales to minors, sales involving illegal trade of other narcotics, sales being used to fund criminal enterprises, possession or cultivating on federal or public property, “drugged driving,” and other public health consequences associated with marijuana use.
“This is kind of a no-brainer,” commissioner Joan May told The Watch after Wednesday’s meeting, adding, “we’re all in favor of these priorities, because we’d pursue them ourselves without the DOJ’s memorandum.”
Similar to any prospective businesses looking to operate in the county, applicants that hope to sell retail marijuana must submit building, site and location plans for review by county officials. Applicants must also present documentation from the appropriate fire district that the structure adheres to fire codes and that the business has proof of insurance.
The sheriff’s office will conduct a criminal background check, and each applicant must also present a detailed description of the security measures for the business, which will be reviewed by the sheriff’s office.
Current medical and future retail marijuana cultivators must provide adequate proof of business ownership in San Miguel County.
“The thinking behind that is that if someone’s going to grow medical or retail marijuana in San Miguel County, that they have some local presence and aren’t just cultivating marijuana and shipping it elsewhere,” said Rozycki.
The commissioners also voted to place a ban on outdoor cultivation of marijuana for commercial retail use. Goodtimes said he favored the temporary ban because of concerns regarding security and possible exposure to minors he’s heard from his constituents.
Mike Grady and Nolan Murphy, co-owners of Alpine Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary on Colorado Avenue in Telluride, said they support the resolution passed on Wednesday.
They added that medical marijuana cultivation operation is currently largely limited to the Industrial Park in Ilium, which is already approaching full capacity.
“Unlike alcohol, which people often compare with marijuana commerce, we grow the same products we sell, and right now, there is just not enough room in Ilium to meet the demand we forecast for retail sales,” Grady said after Wednesday’s meeting.
Grady and Nolan and other medical marijuana dispensary proprietors said during the meeting that they’re looking at Wrights Mesa and other unincorporated areas for cultivation.
“We just need to expand; there’s no point in having a shop if you can’t supply it, and we’re forecasting big demand come January based on interest from locals and visitors,” Grady said.
“The idea of growing our own product for retail sale is to keep local dollars here, so we can use it to grow and so [the taxing bodies] can receive our revenues. We want to expand, and we anticipate bringing on 10-15 additional full-time employees on our staff,” said Grady, adding that retail marijuana sales will greatly increase the size of his business in the coming years.
Wrights Mesa residents attended the Wednesday meeting and expressed their opposition to all marijuana commerce in Colorado. The Norwood Board of Trustees recently gave a unanimous vote to ban marijuana shops and cultivation operations within the town.
David Watson, a Norwood resident, said that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and that the county and state government could potentially lose valuable federal dollars by legalizing its commerce, possession and use. Illustrating his point, he said, “We lowered one of our speed limits to 55 MPH because they threatened to take away federal funding.”
May addressed Watson’s concerns, saying that the Obama administration signaled that it would not counter Amendment 64 with federal law enforcement measures. “At this point I’m not concerned that the federal rules will override our state amendment,” she said.
Goodtimes said that as an elected official, he is expected to respect the voter’s overwhelming approval of Amendment 64.
“I do not represent the minority of voters, I represent the majority. And the majority said that recreational marijuana should be legal, and I will respect that view,” he said, adding that as a county commissioner he will work to put in place regulations that will address the sensitivities of those opposed to marijuana commerce.