County Attorney Mary Deganhart told the two commissioners present, Keith Meinert and Heidi Albritton, that the county can pursue one of several alternatives, from an outright ban on dispensaries and marijuana growing operations to undertaking the regulation of these potential new businesses to putting the question to the voters in November.
Commissioners stressed that they were dealing only with unincorporated areas of the county. Their decisions and actions would not effect the decisions of the towns of Ridgway (which has moved ahead with regulation, including zoning and future licensing) and Ouray (which is still in the midst of heated debate on the subject).
Nor would the county’s decision-making effect the status of any medical marijuana care provider or legitimate card-holder patient.
Something needs to be done, Meinert said, before a state-mandated deadline of July 1, 2011, when, absent any county action, state law will become county law.
Questions remained in both commissioners’ minds about the state’s ability to inspect, tax, and regulate medical marijuana, its grow-ops, and its food-infused products. “I sell mind-altering substances,” Albritton said of her restaurant and bar. “But the quality issues, the health issues of the products are strictly regulated, inspected by the state.” Will the state similarly monitor and inspect marijuana operations?
The idea of placing medical marijuana regulation on the ballot didn’t sit well with Meinert. “In a representative democracy,” he said, “if it’s about regulation, I don’t think it should go to a ballot initiative. If it’s a moral question or a political question, that would be OK, yes. But if it’s a practical concern, like regulation, no.” He added, “A ballot-initiative ban does not give us the option to change it.”
Albritton’s primary concern was the time and resources it would take for the county to draft potential regulation when they are already involved in revisions to the land use code on visual impacts, among other projects. The potential for controversial code revisions in light of the county’s “right to farm” statute also concerned her. “Does the public want us to take this on as a priority?” she asked.
Attorney Deganhart passed around a chart showing that only two of Colorado’s counties, San Miguel and Boulder, had started down the regulation path. All others had either gone with a moratorium or an outright ban.
The commissioners concluded that a wait-and-see approach was probably best and that a BOCC ban on applications for any medical marijuana business, to be revisited in two years, say, when things at the sate level had settled, would be a good approach.
They agreed to put the topic on the agenda for the Aug. 23 regular board meeting with all options, including a ballot measure and an outright ban, on the table.
One audience member, Nick Sanchez, said that he had recently paid the state application fee of $7,500 for a potential marijuana grow-op in Ouray County. “That fee is non-refundable, if you don’t get approved,” Sanchez said.
“It is only fair for us,” Albritton concluded, “to come to some sort of resolution.”