With Carbondale’s recent decision to place a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries fresh in the minds of local policy makers, dispensary owners throughout the Roaring Fork Valley are bracing themselves for new regulations that have the potential to place more financial demands on their businesses.
Originally introduced last February, HB 1284 is a challenging piece of legislation that has undergone a variety of versions in attempts to lasso in an industry that has grown seemingly unchecked since Amendment 20 was passed in 2000, an amendment that effectively legalized medical marijuana use in Colorado.
Since its inception, the bill has transformed from an aggressive attempt by Colorado State Senator Chris Romer — one of the leaders in introducing the legislation — to essentially shut down most dispensaries in Colorado to a more amenable version that focuses on increased security measures and raising health standards.
“The medical marijuana enforcement division is adopting 92 pages of proposed regulations ... There is a lot of uncertainty from those regulations. But [in July], the gray line is going to become a little darker,” said local attorney Spence Schiffer.
Although medical marijuana dispensaries have been legal in Colorado since Amendment 20 was passed, the state’s influx of new dispensaries did not occur until the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memorandum in 2009 stating that its officials would not prosecute growers who were operating within state law.
In turn, last summer state legislators placed a moratorium on granting state licenses to new dispensaries until July of this year, buying lawmakers time to sort out the details of the new marijuana laws.
Among the new regulations, HB 1284 requires that dispensaries be licensed at state and local levels, and allows local governments to ban dispensaries and grow operations in their communities. It also restricts who can operate and own a dispensary (convicted felons are banned) and it requires dispensaries to grow at least 70 percent of the marijuana they sell.
“A lot of the [new] rules are very germane,” said local attorney Lauren Maytin. “I think the major issue is the video surveillance and recording systems HB 1284 [requires]. It’s more of an issue of money ... there is definitely an expense at placing a camera in every egress and ingress. Is it hard to do? No, it’s just expensive and time consuming. The reality is that you just need to be funded and have the money to make the expenditures and comply.”
Meanwhile, local dispensary owners are waiting for the final details of the regulations to be clarified.
“Surely it’s going to affect us all,” said Brett Nelson, owner of Ute City Medicinals. “But really it’s just one of those things we need to follow and keep up with on a center by center basis and something that patients shouldn’t be concerned with.”
Billy Miller, owner of Local's Emporium of Altrnative Farms (L.E.A.F.), said his business has been preparing for the increased regulations since it opened.
“Originally when we built the business plan we built it taking into account the further regulations ... There are things that we have to figure out,” said Miller. “Tracking clones and extra documentation is always a pain in the ass but we’re willing to do everything we’re supposed to and if [another dispensary] doesn’t we’ll benefit [by getting their business].”
Miller added that his business has been proactive in installing an up-to-date security system and L.E.A.F. has been growing well above the required 70 percent of marijuana sold.
Despite being prepared, Miller admitted that like any local mom-and-pop shop in the valley, the dispensary is a business and even small unexpected costs can be enough to close doors.
“This isn’t like the old school hanging out in your basement [growing pot],” he said. “There’s payroll, taxes, social security taxes, unemployment taxes.”
The new regulations also require local cities and counties to adopt an ordinance containing specific standards for license issuances by July 1, which municipalities throughout the Roaring Fork Valley have been at a standstill with.
Pitkin County officials in September sought input from the community about regulating legal marijuana farms, but no action has resulted from the discussions.
Eagle County and the town of Basalt have placed regulations on the distances between schools and churches and dispensaries. The town of Carbondale is the only one that has a moratorium on new dispensaries through 2011.
“I think Carbondale deserves a lot of credit for taking a lot of issues head on,” said Schiffer. “However, I don’t think adopting a moratorium now makes any sense. It would really have no effect until [the state moratorium] expires in July. My contention was and is that a moratorium is a real and immense threat to the public safety and welfare, and there is no threat at the moment. So why not wait until the emergency takes place?”