County Commissioners vote to ban new medical marijuana dispensaries | SteamboatToday.com

County Commissioners vote to ban new medical marijuana dispensaries

County will put fate of existing Aloha's dispensary to voters

Wording of the approved resolution:

A resolution of the Board of County Commissioners of Routt County, Colorado prohibiting the establishment or operation of new medical marijuana centers, medical marijuana optional premises cultivation operations, and medical marijuana-infused products manufacturers in the unincorporated areas of Routt County except as provided herein and establishing specific standards for license issuance to existing medical marijuana centers and medical marijuana option premises cultivation operations and reserving authority to extend, modify or remove the prohibitions and standards for license issuance set forth herein.

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to ban all new medical marijuana dispensaries, grow operations and infused-product makers in unincorporated areas of the county.

"Given what we have here now, and the situation we find ourselves in in Routt County, the ban on new establishments is quite appropriate," Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said.

The ban will not affect Aloha's, a dispensary that operates in Milner. The commissioners will instead have voters decide the business' fate this fall at the ballot box.

At Tuesday night's public meeting at the historic Routt County Courthouse, commissioners said concerns about the drug's accessibility to children and the state's regulation of dispensaries prompted the ban. Commissioners also questioned whether they should allow an activity in the county that is still considered illegal by the federal government.

Mitsch Bush said that legitimate medical marijuana cardholders who rely on the drug to ease pain would still be able to grow it at home or seek it out from another jurisdiction.

The commissioners then voted to draft a ballot question that will ask voters in November whether to close Aloha's. Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who participated in the meeting via telephone, said she would have preferred to ban Aloha's instead of "grandfathering" it in their approved resolution banning dispensaries.

"I have a huge concern about that existing operation and the state's ability to monitor it," she said. "I would like to include the ban of existing operations (in our resolution) because it has no constitutional right to be there, and that would be the right thing to do."

Commissioners approved a conditional land-use application for Aloha's in May and defended themselves against accusations from members of the public who said Tuesday that the governing board had made a mistake in allowing the dispensary to open.

"We as commissioners had no ability to ban it," Stahoviak said. "But now we do have a state statute that allows us to ban it, so times are different now."

The commissioners required the dispensary to make 17 changes to its facility before it opened, transforming it from a residential to a commercial building. After Aloha's opened, the county imposed a moratorium prohibiting new dispensaries. In addition to Aloha's, three medical marijuana dispensaries have operated in Steamboat since 2009, and one operates in Oak Creek.

Aloha's was in the crosshairs of several community members who attended Tuesday's meeting.

"To not close Aloha's with this vote would be in my view a very destructive mistake for the future of our county," said resident Lisa Watts, who helped start a community group that opposes local medical marijuana businesses. Watts said it would be her top priority to "unify people who are concerned about the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries."

"I believe we'll have the votes (to close Aloha's)," she said.

Aloha's owner Chris Ward said after the meeting that he wasn't so sure.

"If it does go to a ballot, I think that we'll be OK," he said. "We'll campaign pretty hard to be able to stay open."

Ward said he was consulting with his attorney to verify whether the commissioners can place the question on a ballot without first receiving signatures from a community initiative. He estimates that his dispensary has served at least 750 medical marijuana patients since it opened.

Routt County resident Dr. Kelly Victory, one of 20 community members who attended Tuesday's meeting, said the commissioners' ban on new dispensaries in the county was a step in the right direction.

"This is a first step into rectifying the situation that was created here out of the misapplication of Amendment 20," said Victory, who like Watts is a leader of the community group opposing dispensaries. "Routt County needs to stand firm in supporting only the legal medicinal use of marijuana."

Colorado voters approved the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions with a doctor's recommendation in 2000 by voting in favor of Amendment 20. The constitutional amendment was supported by a majority of Routt County voters.

The commissioners voted to approve the ban instead of extending the county's current moratorium that disallows the establishment of new dispensaries, saying the moratorium permits dispensaries that are closed by cities to legally relocate to unincorporated areas of the county.

— To reach Scott Franz, call 871-4210 or email ScottFranz@SteamboatToday.com