Aspen mum on pot regs; county to take up issue
July 22, 2010
ASPEN – While jurisdictions around Colorado wrestle with what to do, if anything, about the medical marijuana business, Aspen remains at ease with its dispensaries.
Pitkin County, on the other hand, plans to discuss what regulations it might impose on the budding industry.
County commissioners are scheduled to take up medical marijuana regulation at a Sept. 28 work session. Their options include a prohibition on such businesses, applying special zoning regulations to dispensaries and associated operations, or simply allowing the businesses to operate under the state’s regulations, according to Lance Clarke, assistant director of community development.
“We’ll lay out the options and talk about what other jurisdictions are doing,” he said. “I have a feeling we’ll do our own licensing and have our own restrictions of some sort.”
Some jurisdictions are opting for an outright ban – Vail has adopted one, and Avon is moving in that direction. Glenwood Springs this week decided not to ban dispensaries; Eagle County is contemplating asking voters whether the businesses should be allowed in unincorporated parts of the county.
Aspen has not had the discussion and it’s not on the agenda, said John Worcester, city attorney.
“No one on staff has raised it, no one on the council has raised it, no one in the public has raised it,” he said. “It’s a non-issue.”
There were four dispensaries operating within the city of Aspen at last count, but the city has processed a dozen business licenses related to medical marijuana, according to its finance office. The city is not currently considering any additional licensing requirement beyond a business license, Worcester said.
In unincorporated Pitkin County, licensing marijuana businesses, if the county takes that route, could wind up being similar to the procedure for obtaining a liquor license, according to Clarke.
The new state laws, which took effect in June, set up a uniform set of rules for marijuana dispensaries – now referred to as centers – as well as growers and makers of the marijuana-infused snacks preferred by some patients.
All prospective marijuana businesses that were not in operation by July 1 were required to submit an application in their local jurisdiction indicating their intent to set up shop within a year’s time. The county received three applications for growing operations, one for a dispensary and two from product makers, Clarke said. There is already one dispensary operating in unincorporated Pitkin County – at the Aspen Business Center near the airport – the only place county zoning would permit a dispensary.
Existing operations are required to submit a license application to the state by Aug. 1.
Because the county doesn’t issue business licenses, Clarke said he has no way of knowing if there are growing operations, for example, already in business. They would be allowed in agriculturally zoned areas, while marijuana edibles could be manufactured in virtually any zone district; at a residence, the business must meet the county’s home-occupation requirements, he said.
The state has indicated it will forward all of the license applications it receives from unincorporated Pitkin County to the county early next year, Clarke said. Then, the county will have a better idea of what’s operating within its borders.
Existing dispensary operations in Aspen and the county are scrambling to meet the Aug. 1 state application deadline. The Colorado Department of Revenue is requiring a business application plus personal applications for every key partner and shareholder in a dispensary business, according to Billy Miller, a partner in both Aspen L.E.A.F. and Sopris L.E.A.F. in Carbondale. The personal application is detailed, delving into an applicant’s financial and criminal background.
“They’re looking into anybody who has a financial interest in the business,” said Jordan Lewis, a partner in Silver Peak Apothecary in Aspen.
Dispensary application fees are steep – ranging from $7,500 for a center serving 300 or fewer patients to $12,500 for operations that serve 301 to 500 patients, and $18,000 for those serving more than 500 patients.
There is a $1,250 application fee for grow operations and edible-product manufacturers.
The new state regulations also require dispensaries to grow at least 70 percent of the marijuana they sell, or get it from a licensed off-site grow operation connected to the dispensary, by Sept. 1.
L.E.A.F. anticipated the requirement and already meets it, according to Miller.
“We wanted to be in that range anyway,” he said.
Silver Peak is still working to meet that target by the deadline, though it was already growing some of its own product, Lewis said.
“Basically, in order to comply with the new state regs, we had to change course rapidly,” he said. “As with most of the things in this industry, we’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Both Miller and Lewis said the bright spot in the new regulations is the legitimacy the rules bring to the business.
“Nobody likes so much regulation, but I’ve got to say, it’s a necessary evil at this point,” Lewis said. “I hope this will clear up doubts and help people [to] start looking at this as a legitimate industry.”
Colorado lawmakers crafted the new regulations after an estimated 1,100 medical marijuana dispensaries cropped up around the state. Regulators expected only about half of the existing dispensaries would be able to continue operating under the new rules.
Local jurisdictions have a year, starting from July 1, to decide how they want to regulate the industry, or ban it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.