County, Steamboat and Oak Creek voters OK marijuana dispensaries | SteamboatToday.com

County, Steamboat and Oak Creek voters OK marijuana dispensaries

Jack Weinstein

Kevin Fisher, co-owner of Steamboat Springs dispensary Rocky Mountain Remedies, was all smiles Tuesday night as election results were tallied. Voters in Steamboat Springs and Routt County rejected bans on medical marijuana dispensaries.

— Medical marijuana businesses in Routt County, Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek aren't going anywhere — at least as long as local voters have something to say about it.

Voters overwhelmingly supported the continued operation of medical marijuana dispensaries, grow operations and infused-product makers by defeating three proposed referendums to ban them. Only the town of Yampa approved a ban. Yampa doesn't have an existing medical marijuana business.

More than 54 percent of county voters rejected the ban proposed by Referendum 1A, which means Aloha's in Milner can continue to operate. Opposition to medical marijuana business bans was even greater in Steamboat and Oak Creek, where voters defeated their respective ballot measures with 60 percent of the vote in each community.

"We have always known that Steamboat is a compassionate community," said Kevin Fisher, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies, Steamboat's first dispensary, which opened in fall 2009. "This vote merely codifies that. We also understand that the supporters of our industry have entrusted us to operate our facilities in a responsible manner. Let me assure everyone that their faith is well placed, and we will continue to function in a manner that is in unambiguous compliance with state law."

Steamboat Springs Police Department Capt. Joel Rae, who publicly supported a ban of medical marijuana businesses, said he was disappointed in the vote.

"But I have complete respect for the democratic process," he said. "We'll continue working, doing our education efforts and working with the dispensaries with the regulations our Steamboat Springs City Council has set forth and the regulations the state has set forth."

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Colorado voters approved the use of medical marijuana for certain conditions with a doctor's recommendation when they supported Amendment 20 in 2000. About 65 percent of Routt County voters approved the constitutional amendment.

Since the industry exploded in 2009, five medical marijuana dispensaries have opened in the county, including three in Steamboat Springs and one each in Milner and Oak Creek. A sixth dispensary in Yampa opened and closed in that time.

A separate grow operation is located in Oak Creek, and Steamboat resident Lisa Kamieniecki makes marijuana-infused products.

The Steamboat Springs City Council approved a revision to its medical marijuana ordinance in June to regulate D&C Medical Marijuana & Therapeutic Massage, Natural Choice and Rocky Mountain Remedies in compliance with Amendment 20. It's essentially the same ordinance City Council members first approved in January 2010.

However, because the ban failed, another ordinance approved in July will take effect after Tuesday's vote is certified. The ordinance recognizes the commercial businesses — dispensaries, grow operations and infused-product makers — created by state legislation in 2010. It also would permit Kamieniecki's infused-product business to continue to operate. Her business wasn't authorized by the previous ordinance.

Aloha's owner Chris Ward said he lost a lot of sleep leading up to the election and was relieved upon hearing the results.

"I'm happy and excited to see everything work out," he said. "We'll do our best to make sure the county and everybody else are happy with us. We'll obey all the laws and be compliant and do what's expected of us."

Ward will operate the only medical marijuana business in unincorporated Routt County. The Routt County Board of Commissioners previously approved a ban of all future medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county, including Milner.

Lisa Watts helped lead a group to oppose the medical marijuana businesses. Her group met with organizations throughout the county in the months leading up to the election.

"Our goal from the outset was to increase awareness and educate people about the negative impact that the medical marijuana dispensaries are having in our community," Watts wrote in an email Tuesday night. "We feel that we were successful in that effort. At this point, marijuana — medical or otherwise — remains illegal, so the long-term future of the dispensaries remains to be seen. "

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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