Pitkin County officials will be reaching out to neighborhood political caucuses throughout the county in the coming weeks to ask whether people want recreational marijuana grown, cooked, tested or sold in their neighborhoods.
Following an hour-long discussion Tuesday that kicked off the county’s rulemaking process for the recreational marijuana industry, Pitkin County commissioners will be thinking a lot this summer about the number, size, location and types of cannabis businesses to allow in the county.
Amendment 64, the constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters last November, gives local jurisdictions the authority to regulate myriad aspects of the recreational marijuana trade.
In May, the Colorado Legislature approved a state retail marijuana code, and on Monday the state Department of Revenue weighed in with rules governing labeling and product testing, among other things.
Still, local governments have significant power to shape the pot industry to their liking.
“We really can do a great number of things,” said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely in a presentation to the commissioners Tuesday.
Ely noted that the commissioners could rule on whether to allow pot cultivation, testing and retail sale, or the manufacture of marijuana-infused products, within the county.
The board can also keep pot businesses from locating close to schools, limit the total number of businesses allowed, increase the fees they pay to apply for licenses or impose restrictions on how they advertise.
On Tuesday, the commissioners appeared mostly concerned with how to regulate marijuana grow operations, since most retail stores will likely be located within the city limits of Aspen and Basalt, out of the county’s purview.
“I haven’t seen a lot of problems occurring with the retail shops within the municipalities,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “Having the retail locations within the municipalities makes a lot of sense.”
Amendment 64 allows for the possibility of large wholesale grow operations, since the “vertical integration” restrictions requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to grow 70 percent of the pot they sell will only apply to the recreational industry for the first nine months of its existence.
After that, large growers could spring up to supply any number of retailers throughout the state.
Commission Chair George Newman said that large grow operations in Pitkin County would likely be housed in greenhouses, because of the region’s harsh climate.
“If you have a greenhouse along a major road or corridor, what size should that be?” he asked.
But Lance Clarke, the county’s assistant community development director, pointed out that none of the three medical marijuana grow sites currently located in Pitkin County are utilizing greenhouses today.
“So far, grow operations have not been greenhouses — they have been enclosed structures, and they’ve been in the 2,000-square-foot range, maximum,” he said.
Clarke said there are two more applications for medical grow operations now pending with the county, and there are two retail medical marijuana dispensaries operating as well.
Starting on Oct. 1 of this year, any of those medical operators could apply for a recreational marijuana license. The state is required to respond to their applications within three months, and the county will also have to sign off on local applications.
People interested in opening recreational marijuana businesses who aren’t currently in the medical pot trade can start applying for licenses in July of 2014.
Although the commissioners made no decisions on Tuesday about the permitted size and location of grow operations, commissioner Steve Child opined that marijuana could be a boon for local farmers and ranchers if it’s not over-regulated.
“It could be the savior for a lot of agriculture in Pitkin County to have an agricultural cash crop, something other than alfalfa hay,” said Child, who now operates a family ranch in Old Snowmass. “We always joke when we’re stacking alfalfa hay that if this was marijuana, we’ll really be rich!”
The proper level of taxes and fees to impose on the pot business was another topic of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.
Under state law, medical marijuana professionals applying for a recreational license will have to pay a one-time fee of $500, while those new to the business will face a $5,000 application fee.
“The assumption is that the licensing fee should cover the expenses associated with the issuance of the license,” said Ely, though he noted that the county could levy additional “operating fees” to cover inspections or other regulatory costs.
Colorado voters will weigh in this coming November on two proposed taxes for recreational marijuana: a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale growers, and a 10 percent sales tax on retail stores.
The first $40 million collected from the excise tax each year will go toward public school construction in the state, while 15 percent of the sales tax revenue will be returned to local governments to help cover the cost of regulation.