Aloha’s fate goes to Routt County voters
Commissioners OK ballot question about whether to close Milner medical marijuana center
July 20, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a ballot question that will ask voters whether to close Aloha's in Milner despite a plea from the medical marijuana dispensary's owner to table the resolution.
Aloha's would have until January 1, 2012, to close if voters approve the resolution in November.
Aloha's owner Chris Ward told commissioners that his business has complied with all of the state's regulations for dispensaries and that he felt two months was not a sufficient amount of time for his business to wind down if its closure was approved.
"It would be an atrocity, and it would be ludicrous for me to continue expanding or keeping up to date with new laws … if this resolution is passed," he said.
Ward's attorney and three of his twelve employees also addressed the commissioners before Tuesday's vote.
"This establishes a bad precedent to try to run one lawful business out of town. It's bad policy, and it runs counter to our country's tradition of freedom, of letting people who need something get it," attorney Scott McGill said.
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He called the ballot question heartless, and he urged the board to not approve it.
Commissioners last month voted to ban all new medical marijuana dispensaries, grow operations and infused-product makers in unincorporated areas of the county but left the fate of Aloha's up to the ballot box. Commissioners questioned whether the state was adequately regulating dispensaries and whether the county should allow an activity that the federal government considers illegal. They also cited concerns about the drug's potential accessibility to children as a reason to enact the ban.
Commissioners said they could have voted to close Aloha's last month but elected to ask the public whether it should be closed because a majority of Routt County voters supported Amendment 20 in 2000, which allowed the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions with a doctor's recommendation.
"We felt like letting the people of the county voice their opinion again," Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said. "We've heard lots of testimony from many in the medical field who felt that Amendment 20 wasn't working the way people had thought it would."
Commissioner Doug Monger also said he supported letting county residents vote on the issue.
But Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said last month that she would have liked to include the closure of Aloha's in the resolution banning new medical marijuana dispensaries in the county.
"I have a huge concern about that existing operation and the state's ability to monitor it," she said.
She also said the dispensary had no constitutional right to operate.
Commissioners approved a conditional land-use application for Aloha's in May and required Ward to make 17 changes to his facility that transformed it from a residential to a commercial building. The business opened July 4, 2010, and Ward said it serves more than 700 medical marijuana patients.
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com