by Beecher Threatt
On Tuesday the Board of County Commissioners moved forward an ordinance to prohibit recreational marijuana facilities in the unincorporated areas of the county for one year, subject to review before an Oct. 15, 2014 sunset date. On that date the moratorium will expire, unless earlier repealed. The board may enact a longer moratorium before that date.
Exempted from the moratorium is the one existing grow facility in the county, which will allow it to grow marijuana for recreational use sales, provided the facility does not expand. It is currently licensed to grow marijuana for medicinal use, and the exemption will allow sale of plants for either medicinal or recreational purposes.
Owner Chris Sanchez and general manager David Niccum said they appreciate the board's action exempting the company, however the board could decide before October 2014 to prohibit all recreational grow operations, making it difficult to plan for the future.
Sanchez said some communities are banning the sale of recreational marijuana, but so far his Ridgway and Crested Butte stores will be allowed to sell for recreational use. His grow facility can provide plants for those stores and for wholesale to other dispensaries.
Commissioners were scheduled to convene a special meeting today to adopt the ordinance on first reading, a necessary move to have time for posting public notice, required newspaper publication and second reading before Oct. 1, the date by which counties and municipalities may prohibit recreational marijuana facilities according to state law.
Current medical marijuana facilities may apply for state licenses to grow and sell for recreational use on Oct. 1, and if licensed they may begin recreational sales on Jan. 1, 2014. Newcomers to the marijuana market will not be able to acquire recreational licenses until October 2014.
County Attorney Marti Whitmore said with the quick enactment of state laws and regulations following state residents' approval of an amendment to the constitution allowing recreational use of marijuana last November, questions remain about implementation of the regulations and the interaction of state and local licensing authority. She cautioned that by allowing expansion of a nonconforming use for Sanchez, that is adding recreational plant growth to his current medicinal plant growth authority, the board could be authorizing a new nonconforming use that could not be taken away in 2014.
"The argument may be that notwithstanding a (later) county ordinance (prohibiting recreational grow operations completely) there is some authorized use," Whitmore said. Sanchez could use that argument to continue recreational growth operations even if the county prohibits them before October 2014, based on the exemption in the proposed ordinance and his receipt of a state license.
Without passage of the ordinance scheduled for first reading today and for second reading on Aug. 27, Sanchez's medicinal grow facility would not be able to obtain a state license to grow plants for recreational use.
Board Chair Mike Fedel said he would prefer that the ordinance not sunset, because if the board does not take action before the sunset date then there would be no county prohibition of recreational use facilities at all.
County Commissioner Don Batchelder favored the sunset provision, saying the county as a whole voted in favor of Amendment 64, "and we owe citizens some sort of guarantee we are going to look at this. This is better as our response as elected officials, because it forces us before October 2014 to review it."
Also on Tuesday, County Administrator Connie Hunt previewed for commissioners a plan for funding over $600,000 for county fairgrounds grandstands repairs.
Hunt is wrapping up a grant application to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) for $350,000. She will also apply to Gates Family Foundation and El Pomar Foundation for grants of approximately $88,000 each. Hunt said she met with Gates representatives at the Rural Philanthropy Days conference in June, held in the 4-H Center, and received positive feedback.
"They could look out the window and see the grandstands," Hunt said.
She told the board that the more they can show the county will provide matching funds and commit to raising any additional funds to complete the project, the more likely the GOCO application is to succeed.
The county has $38,000 in the fairgrounds fund and can commit to $38,000 more in inkind and cash contributions from the general fund and road and bridge fund. The board's letter to GOCO, approved on Tuesday, states its commitment "to backfill the lack of matching funds should the foundation grants fall short of full funding" and notes user groups' fundraising efforts.
In other business Tuesday, the board:
--approved a hike in fees for immunizations administered by the county. Public Health Director Elisabeth Lawaczeck said the state allowable maximum fees went up. Fees are lowered or waived if the patient states they cannot afford them. The board also approved a medical billing services contract, which Lawaczeck said would significantly improve the county's collection of insurance compensation for medical services. Hunt and Commissioner Lynn Padgett thanked her for finding lost revenue.
--reappointed Fedel to the Ouray County Housing Authority board. Fedel said he has been on the board since its inception and enjoys serving on it.