Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jan 2012
Source: Aspen Times, The  (CO)
Copyright: 2012 Aspen Times
Author: Janet Urquhart


ASPEN -- Pitkin County will delve into the licensing of medical 
marijuana businesses within unincorporated areas of the county, 
commissioners informally decided Tuesday after a discussion with two 
representatives of the state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Whether the county adopts any regulations related to the industry or 
simply licenses the establishments and relies on state rules remains 
to be seen, but at least one commissioner believes the county should 
consider limiting the number of businesses that are licensed to grow 
medical marijuana, sell it or manufacture products that contain medicinal pot.

"If we're going to allow the licenses, we need to limit this," said 
Commissioner George Newman. Neighborhood caucuses in the midvalley 
have made it clear that they don't want any more of the businesses 
than currently exist, he noted.

He also voiced concerns about potential abuses that put marijuana in 
the hands of youths.

But Commissioner Rachel Richards cautioned against turning a license 
into a "gold medallion" -- creating great value in a medical 
marijuana business license because few of them are available.

The state of Colorado is in the process of licensing medical 
marijuana businesses but won't issue a license to a business unless 
the local jurisdiction does as well, according to Brian Dyet, senior 
investigator for the state enforcement division in western Colorado.

"We're not going to issue a state medical marijuana license unless 
Pitkin County does," he said.

County commissioners previously had decided to do nothing with regard 
to the industry, letting only the state rules apply, but given the 
prospect that existing businesses would be denied a state license 
without some local action, all five elected officials agreed to 
direct the county staff to come up with a licensing procedure.

"I'm feeling very comfortable about licensing," said Commissioner 
Jack Hatfield, who visited a grow facility and a dispensary to see 
firsthand how they operate within the evolving regulatory framework 
the state established.

"We need to step up as a board and get this done and get this done 
right," Hatfield said.

"We do need to find a way to make this work," agreed Commissioner Rob 
Ittner. "I do think there are tremendous benefits to medical marijuana."

Ittner said the county should ensure that the general public, as well 
as those in the industry, are protected by the regulations imposed on 
the businesses. Commissioners asked staffers to look at how the city 
of Aspen and other counties regulate medical marijuana.

Most of the local dispensaries are within the city of Aspen, but 10 
businesses -- mostly grow sites -- are believed to be in operation in 
unincorporated Pitkin County. That's how many stepped forward when 
the state required the businesses to submit a license application in 
2010. A state moratorium, scheduled to expire July 1, currently 
prevents any additional applicants from opening up shop.

Roughly a dozen representatives of the medical marijuana industry 
attended Tuesday's session, but few chose to speak. One Aspen 
dispensary operator praised the commissioners' "positive attitude" 
toward the licensing issue.

"I hope that you find a way to permit these businesses to exist and 
thrive in your community," said local attorney Lauren Maytin, who 
represents various medical marijuana businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The discussion focused only briefly on federal law, under which the 
possession, use and sale of marijuana remains illegal. Federal 
prohibitions conflict with state laws in Colorado and other states 
that have legalized medical marijuana. Federal law led commissioners 
to previously reject proposed regulation of the industry in Pitkin County.

"We don't know what they're going to do," said Lewis Koski of the 
state enforcement division regarding federal authorities. "They're 
going to make the choices that they're going to make in this process.

"We're continuing full steam ahead with the state law," he said.
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