TELLURIDE – Even in San Miguel County, where the vote last year in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana was 79 percent, exactly how to go about establishing a legal pot industry is not easy.
Last week, the San Miguel County Commissioners voted to allow retail marijuana cultivation and production of infused marijuana products in unincorporated areas of the county. The vote was 2-1, with commissioners Elaine Fischer and Joan May voting for the amendment to the county land use code to allow for more marijuana cultivation facilities in most of the county, and with Commissioner Art Goodtimes, who represents the West End of San Miguel County, voting against it.
The amendment to open up the F zone district to more cultivation facilities than the four previously permitted in the Ilium Valley, and similar facilities throughout the F zone district, east of Ilium, does not limit the number of retail cultivation facilities that could be permitted there. That same day, the commissioners voted unanimously to allow just four licensed retail cultivation operations on Wright’s Mesa.
The commissioners will revisit this moratorium in a year.
County Planning Director Mike Rozycki summed up the dilemma of how best to manage the uncharted territory of marijuana cultivation, production and sales, saying, “It is the county’s position that the most effective way to control marijuana use in the community and to address the public safety concerns is to regulate it.”
Goodtimes, who may have been the first elected official in Colorado to buy retail marijuana on Jan. 1 (at a Telluride dispensary), said that while he obviously supported decriminalizing marijuana, and personally was in favor of passing the land use code amendment making it easier to cultivate marijuana and produce marijuana-infused products, he voted against the LUC amendment because he didn’t have a firm understanding about what his constituents in his district wanted.
After the meeting, Goodtimes told The Watch, “I think we have a structural problem in the county; I would have prefered to refer this to the people, and have them vote on this.”
Because San Miguel County is statutory, and not home-rule (like Pitkin and Denver counties), its commissioners cannot send land use code amendments to the voters.
Linda Soucie, who lives on Wright’s Mesa, expressed support for decriminalized medical marijuana cultivation and use, but said that marijuana cultivation in the county has already attracted crime, worried that property values on Wright’s Mesa could be put at risk.
“I don’t want this happening on Wright’s Mesa,” she said of marijuana cultivation and edible production during the meeting.
“We ought to wait and err on the side of caution here,” said Goodtimes after Wednesday’s meeting. “Linda Soucie’s comments were spot on, and I believe the people of Wright’s Mesa weren’t comfortable with this.”
May said after the lengthy public comment session on June 19, “at this time, we’d rather regulate this industry than have it go underground in the black market.”
For their part, retail marijuana cultivators told the commissioners that limits on where they’re required to grow their crops in San Miguel County have prevented them from producing adequate supply to meet the growing demand. Increasing cultivation capacity, they said, is key to fixing the problem.
The Industry Weighs in
Greg Viditz-Ward, cofounder of the Telluride Green Room, a dispensary in Telluride, pronounced himself pleased with the commissioners’ decision to allow cultivation throughout the vast F zone district and on Wright’s Mesa.
“This gives us a chance to expand and grow,” he said. “Right now, I see demand outstripping supply, because we can’t grow in large quantities in Ilium…. I’m glad we’ll be able to do this at home, because we can employ local people.”
The approved land use code amendment, he said, could allow the Telluride Green Room to double its staff.
“Before long, we’ll have 20 to 30 people working for the Telluride Green Room,” he said optimistically.
But others aren’t happy that the commissioners went on to limit the number of new operations on Wright’s Mesa.
Telluride attorney Daniel Zemke, representing two marijuana caregivers who hope to turn their operations into a retail establishment in Telluride, and another client who hopes to move to Colorado to establish a medical marijuana dispensary, voiced frustration at the first-year limit to four new growing operations on Wright’s Mesa.
“The rule limits the number of applications for the Wright’s Mesa area for applications,” Zemke said. “Only four applications will be permitted during the first year, and that would appear to favor the four businesses currently in operation in Telluride…. It would have been favorable to the industry to allow for more in that area,” he said, but, he added, sounding resigned, the commissioners “have made their decision.”
Telluride is home to four retail dispensaries: Alpine Wellness, Delilah, the Telluride Green Room and the Telluride Bud Co.
Zemke said he hopes that when the commissioners revisit the moratorium next year, they’ll increase the number of permitted grow operations on Wright’s Mesa.
“Telluride has decided to let the market decide how many retail shops can be supported,” he said, and “San Miguel County should have matched that philosophy.
“That said, I still agree with the decision of the [commissioners] overall, and the industry will need to adjust accordingly,” said Zemke.