Garfield County extends moratorium on new medical marijuana operations

Voter-prohibited dispensaries must close by July 1

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— Garfield County commissioners on Monday formally extended a moratorium for another year, until June 30, 2012, on any new medical marijuana cultivation operations in unincorporated parts of the county.

The decision comes after the Colorado Legislature last week passed a bill establishing state regulations on all types of medical marijuana operations, effective July 1.

The bill, which still is awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature, gives local governments the authority to put a moratorium on new operations until local rules and regulations related to zoning and licensing can be established.

Garfield County has had a moratorium in effect since June 2010, which has been intended to give county officials time to draw up regulations governing the new industry.

Commissioners then decided to put the question to voters on what types of medical marijuana activities should be allowed.

In the November 2010 election, county voters opted to prohibit retail marijuana dispensaries and so-called “infused products” manufacturing operations in the county’s jurisdiction.

However, voters agreed to permit growing operations, and the county has started working on new regulations to govern them.

The now-prohibited retail and manufacturing businesses must close their doors by July 1, which was reaffirmed in the resolution passed, 3-0, by the commissioners Monday.

Commissioners said they still need more time to come up with regulations for the growing operations. Any operations that already exist can continue to do so, they said, but no new operations will be allowed until the new rules can be adopted.

One local grower, Brian Radtke, said the county is dragging its feet in coming up with the rules after the voters have spoken on the matter.

“My feeling is that it’s their job to set the zoning before July 1,” he said after the Monday meeting, in reference to the existing moratorium. “They’re just continuing the controversy by doing this.”

Radtke and other growers who were operating since before the original moratorium were assured that they can continue to do so.

But Radtke said he isn’t so sure that protects him under the state’s rules. He asked the county commissioners for a letter to present to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which is handling state licenses for medical marijuana operations.

County Commission Chairman John Martin said the rules of the moratorium allowing existing operations to continue should serve as authorization.

“Our position is that existing grow operations are under review for local regulations,” he said.

Justin Rambo, owner of the Hydroponics Creations dispensary south of Glenwood Springs, now will have to close his doors or relocate his business.

Glenwood Springs and Carbondale also have moratoriums on new businesses while they sort through their own rules.

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