Passage of emergency measure angers canna-businessman
The Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday passed two emergency measures that prohibit retail and medical marijuana operations in three caucus areas, angering a cannabis entrepreneur who contends officials are changing the rules on him at the last minute.
The commissioners passed by a 4-0 vote a one-year prohibition on retail licenses for new cultivation sites in the Crystal River caucus area. It also prohibits new retail sales licenses for shops in the village of Redstone.
But it was the county board’s 3-1 vote on a resolution that prohibits the issuance of medical marijuana licenses in the Woody Creek and Emma caucuses that drew the ire of Ron Radtke. He owns retail and medical marijuana shops in Aspen and Glenwood.
He said he had a license issued from the state for an outdoor medical marijuana grow operation in Woody Creek before the county moratorium’s first phase, which covered other caucuses, was enacted in February. Believing the county’s decision on his application would be easily approved, Radtke said he then spent nearly $50,000 on fencing and security schematics and other plans for the Woody Creek site that he leased. Radtke didn’t rule out a lawsuit against the county.
Lauren Maytin, an Aspen attorney who also specializes in marijuana law, attended the hearing with Radtke. She said he is utilizing a “use by right,” based on the zoning for the Woody Creek property, and that his application shouldn’t even be before the county board. It should have been a simple administrative decision made by county staff, she said.
“Now, you’re required to go back in front of the board,” a step that shouldn’t be required of Radtke, Maytin said.
State statutes dictate that the rule of law at the time an application is filed exists throughout the approval process, Maytin said.
The county “is changing this midstream” on Radtke, she said, adding that he relied on the rules that were in place when he submitted his medical marijuana application.
She said she could understand the county turning Radtke down when he went to renew his application next year because the moratorium would be the “rule of the land” at that point.
“Pitkin County is the worst business partner I’ve ever heard of if they’re willing to do something like that on someone,” she said.
Commissioner George Newman, however, said after the hearing that Radtke “never had a green light from the beginning.
“They had to go through a [county] licensing process, and they never got a license,” he said.
In the meantime, while his application was in the county pipeline, the caucuses recommended that officials ban cannabis activities from their neighborhoods. The county responded with a one-year moratorium.
Now, about the only place not covered by the caucus-related ban is between Old Snowmass and Basalt along Highway 82. One grow site is under construction in that area — “Marijuana Alley,” as County Attorney John Ely termed it in an interview before the hearing.
The commissioners shot down Radtke’s application for two greenhouses near Snowmass Canyon in February following Woody Creek caucus opposition. He then decided to apply for an “optional premises” cultivation site for medical marijuana that would be outdoors in Woody Creek.
But Tuesday’s addition of the Woody Creek caucus to the moratorium prevents approval of his application.
Ely agreed that cultivation of agricultural products is “by-right” based on zone districts.
“But you can’t do marijuana without a license,” he said. “If he was growing tomatoes he wouldn’t need anything.”
While marijuana is now legal, businesses in the industry still need a license, Ely said.
“It’s definitely tough for these guys who are in the business,” he said.
Radtke said the moratorium will not impact his businesses because he said he expects to get his recreational license from the city of Glenwood Springs on Friday.
“This bulls--- with Pitkin County is not going to hurt me at all because the real operation is in Glenwood Springs,” he said. “I’d like them to refund my $50,000, and maybe a lawsuit is going to force that.”