Pubdate: Mon, 16 Jan 2012
Source: Aspen Times, The  (CO)
Copyright: 2012 Aspen Times
Author: Janet Urquhart


ASPEN -- Pitkin County is one of 22 Colorado counties that allow 
medical marijuana businesses to operate in unincorporated areas, but 
the county's refusal to issue licenses to the operations puts their 
future in question.

County commissioners are scheduled to discuss what sort of licensing 
procedure, if any, the county should establish. If it does nothing, 
according to County Attorney John Ely, Colorado will deny a state 
license to the approximately 10 operators that are currently doing 
business in unincorporated Pitkin County.

Commissioner Michael Owsley had asked that staffers attempt to 
arrange for a state representative to attend Tuesday's discussion.

The state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division has informed the 
county that the local jurisdiction's lack of action will be 
interpreted as the denial of a local license, though that was not the 
commissioners' intent in June, when they decided to drop any effort 
to regulate dispensaries, grow operations or makers of products 
infused with medical marijuana.

Rather, commissioners agreed the businesses should be solely 
regulated by the state after Ely pointed out that dealing in medical 
marijuana remains a violation of federal law even though it's 
permitted in Colorado. Asking county employees to issue licenses to 
marijuana businesses and enforce zoning laws related to medical 
marijuana puts them in a position of potential criminal liability, he 
said at the time.

"The conduct that is contemplated in the statutes of Colorado is 
illegal," Ely told commissioners in June. "I don't think the county 
should be in the position of abetting the violation of federal law."

"This is a fairly rare occurrence -- that he tells us we might be 
doing something illegal," said Owsley at the time, urging his 
colleagues to follow Ely's advice and reject proposed county regulations.

The dichotomy between state and federal law has not changed, but the 
county's inaction has put existing businesses in a tenuous position.

Meanwhile, federal authorities began cracking down last week on 
medical marijuana businesses in Colorado, targeting those within 
1,000 feet of schools. State regulations prohibit the businesses 
within 1,000 feet of schools, but grandfathered in were those 
businesses already in existence before regulations were passed in 2010.

U.S. Attorney John Walsh said 23 dispensaries near schools have until 
Feb. 27 to shut down or face federal penalties, which can include 
asset seizure or forfeiture of property. The warning letters, dated 
Thursday, were being sent to dispensary owners and their landlords.

Colorado has more than 600 retail shops, 900 cultivation sites and 
230 infused-product manufacturers operating under state law, 
according to the state Revenue Department.

In Pitkin County, most medical marijuana businesses are operating 
within municipalities and are unaffected by what the county does or 
doesn't do. Municipal licensing and regulations apply to those operations.

In addition to the 22 Colorado counties that allow medical marijuana 
businesses in unincorporated areas, three are "hybrids" that allow 
some operations but not others. In Garfield County, for example, 
voters decided to allow grow operations but ban dispensaries and 
infused-product manufacturers in the unincorporated areas, a memo to 
commissioners read.

In addition, some counties that have banned the businesses have 
allowed already-existing operations to continue.

The Pitkin County commissioners take up medical marijuana Tuesday at 
3:15 p.m. in their Plaza One meeting room.

- - The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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