New state law allows local bans and establishes a state licensing framework
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — County planners and attorneys will take another look at a proposed set of regulations governing the establishment and operation of medical marijuana grow operations and dispensaries after the State Legislature passed House Bill 1284 in the last week of the legislative session.
The new state law imposes a one-year moratorium on new medical marijuana centers but allows existing facilities to operate for a year before becoming licensed. It also sets up a state regulatory framework for licensing to be administered by the Colorado Department of Revenue and the Department of Health.
The health department is also charged with developing new rules that will outline sanctions against doctors who violate the licensing and documentation requirements. The state law also gives local jurisdictions the ability to ban medical marijuana facilities, limits the number of patients for primary caregivers and specifies where patients or primary caregivers may not use or possess medical marijuana.
County rules proposed last October would strictly limit the locations of medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations on unincorporated land in Summit County to commercial districts and a few other locations, specifically to areas near the 7-11 north of Breckenridge, in the Wildernest commercial zone and in the Heeney area, as discussed by the county commissioners late last year.
Assistant county manager Thad Noll said the rules would only accommodate four different locations in the county.
The county’s rules don’t apply to local towns, which set their own regulations.
Under the proposed county regulations, growing would only be allowed in dispensaries, limited by the same zoning requirements and buffers. At least two grow operations on county land known to exist at that time would become unauthorized uses if the regulations are adopted as they were proposed last year.
However, the county set aside the regulations pending passage of any new state laws. The moratorium was first adopted Oct. 27, 2009 and extended in late January 2010.
“We didn’t want to spend a lot of time spinning our wheels,” said County Attorney Jeff Huntley, explaining that county planners will start to revisit the issue in the next few weeks.
Huntley said there’s no specific time limit for moratoriums, but that they are guided by a general standard of reasonableness. He said the county would take a look at the new state law to see if any changes are required to the county’s proposed rules.
As proposed last year, the county rules could affect several existing growing operations on county land by prohibiting dispensaries on land zoned for agriculture (the A-1 zone).
County planners said the A-1 restrictions were aimed at limiting the size of grow operations.
“We’re not allowing it in A-1 zoning for several reasons. if we allow it in A-1, it could allow for large-scale growing operations … we’re proposing that restriction because of propensity for fire, theft, and the potential burden on law enforcement,” Summit County planner Kristin Dean said during the October work session. “We’re not sure we want Summit County to be known as area that allows large growing operations,” she said.
As discussed last year, the local permitting process could also include an up-front security component with pro-active involvement by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff John Minor told the commissioners he’s concerned about the potential for crime and expressed a willingness to work with operators on addressing public safety issues.
Some medical marijuana advocates opposed the provision of the new state law that lets local communities ban dispensaries, although individual
caregivers would still be allowed to provide marijuana to up to five people in localities where a ban is in place.
Medical marijuana advocates said the provision could restrict chronically ill Coloradans from safely accessing cannabis, which is a Constitutionally protected drug under Colorado law since voters legalized it in 2000.
The state law could face a challenge in court over the provision, and over what advocates say are excessive fees.
Law enforcement officials also criticized the bill for legitimizing dispensaries. They said in testimony that’s not what Colorado voters intended when they legalized medical marijuana.
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