Colorado Marijuana News
The Grand County commissioners decided to table a proposal to rezone the former Highland Lumber building on U.S. Highway 40 in Tabernash, which might become a medical-marijuana grow facility.
Wells Fargo Bank took ownership of the 11-acre parcel and building after foreclosing on the owner.Learn more »
Grand County Planning Commission voted four to two against issuing a special use permit for a proposed marijuana grow facility near Granby.
The Department of Planning and Zoning recommended the commission approve the permit.Learn more »
The Grand County commissioners will conduct a public hearing regarding a special use permit for a marijuana cultivation facility near Granby.
The board will consider the application on Tuesday, July 22, in the Grand County Administration Building in Hot Sulphur Springs.Learn more »
VAIL — While resort towns elsewhere were quick to jump into retail marijuana sales, Vail continues its wait-and-see approach.
The Vail Town Council Tuesday unanimously passed on first reading an ordinance that will extend the town’s current moratorium on retail marijuana sales in town. The town had been working through the spring on perhaps making a final decision on whether or not to ban retail sales in town, facing a self-imposed July 31 deadline.Learn more »
People looking to purchase marijuana in Silverthorne after sundown are now in luck.
On Wednesday night, the Silverthorne Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance extending the hours of operation at retail marijuana shops. Shops can now operate from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Prior town code required them to lock up by 7 p.m.Learn more »
VAIL — The Vail town council voted unanimously to extend its temporary ban on retail marijuana for another year in order to gather more information and observe other towns such as Aspen, who have legalized retail sales.
The town had set a self-imposed July 31 deadline to make a decision on retail sales, but council members said the past year has raised too many questions, with not enough time to answer all of them.Learn more »
VAIL — A public hearing has been scheduled during the Tuesday, June 17 Vail Town Council meeting to continue discussions regarding policy options on the topic of retail marijuana sales. The item is listed sixth on the meeting agenda, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Vail Town Council Chambers.
The Vail Town Council will be reviewing a list of nearly 60 questions and issues forwarded by members of a 16-member working group that has been convened by the town to explore the topic. Representing various organizations throughout the community, the working group has met twice to help shape the public policy discussion.Learn more »
EAGLE COUNTY — A longtime local business family landed one of Eagle County’s rare retail marijuana licenses.
Jim and Kristin Comerford will add The Vail Bud Brewery to their roster of local businesses, which includes Subway sandwich shops, Vail’s Qdoba Mexican Grill and a real estate development company. They’ll partner with another local dispensary owner, Dave and Dieneka Manzanares of Sweet Leaf Pioneer in Eagle.Learn more »
AVON — Town Council members took the first step toward banning retail marijuana sales and grow operations at the April 22 meeting, passing on first reading an ordinance that would ban retail and grow operations in town.
The council voted 6-1 for the ban, with council member Jake Wolf casting the lone dissenting vote. In casting his vote, Wolf noted, as he has in the past, that more than 70 percent of town voters in 2012 voted to approve Amendment 64, the state constitutional amendment that legalized the possession and consumption of marijuana by people 21 and older.Learn more »
EAGLE-VAIL — Greg Honan thinks he might be blazing a new trail in the medical marijuana business. Stephan Shearin hopes he’s right.
Honan is the owner of the Herbal Elements medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle-Vail. He recently partnered with Tranzbyte, a company specializing in the technology of marijuana, to put the first ZaZZZ vending machine in the dispensary.Learn more »
TABERNASH — Agritourism is new a way to experience Colorado’s unique heritage, and now a Grand County group is trying to combine it with another of the state’s fascinations – legalized marijuana.
“We have fabulous marijuana at this altitude,” said Susan Kuglitsch, of Tabernash, a proponent of cannabis agritourism in Grand County. “That secret will get out quick. We’d like to (promote enjoying) it responsibly in a nice family setting.”Learn more »
DENVER — A Colorado proposal to widen a ban on certain types of edible marijuana advanced Thursday in the state House amid concerns that it could be too broad.
What lawmakers are trying to prevent is accidental ingestion by children who can’t tell the difference between a regular cookie or gummy bear and the kinds infused with cannabis. Lawmakers also worry that officials won’t be able to know when students have marijuana at school when the drug is in the form of an edible.Learn more »
DENVER — Authorities say a Wyoming college student who jumped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony ate more than the recommended serving of a marijuana cookie.
Police reports released Thursday said 19-year-old Levy Thamba Pongi consumed a little more than one cookie that his friend purchased from a pot shop.Learn more »
Medical marijuana ban fails in town of Red CliffApril 2, 2014 —
RED CLIFF — Voters here Tuesday retained two town council members and rejected a proposed ban on medical marijuana operations.
Anuschka Bales and Tom Henderson, both current board members, were both elected to four-year terms. But the election still leaves the seven-member board short two people. Town clerk Barb Smith said the town will post the vacancies, with a 30-day period for interested people to apply for the board positions.
With just two people running for four seats, the town might have canceled the spring election, except for a resident-supported ballot measure that would have banned medical marijuana operations. There are no such businesses in town now, and mayor Scott Burgess said there are no pending applications, either.
But the town council last year approved regulations for retail marijuana operations, which prompted a group of town residents to sponsor both the medical marijuana ban ballot measure and a possible fall ballot measure to ban retail operations.
Burgess said the residents couldn’t put both measures on the April municipal election ballot due to language in Amendment 64, the 2012 state constitutional amendment that legalized the possession, growing and retail sale of marijuana for recreation purposes. According to the amendment, communities can only vote to ban retail sales and growing operations in the November general election of even-numbered years.
Town voters in 2012 voted for Amendment 64 by a wide margin — Burgess said roughly 75 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the measure. Tuesday’s vote against the ban wasn’t that decisive, but the margin of defeat was still in the 60 percent range.
Diana Cisneros, a life-long town resident who helped circulate petitions to put the medical ban on Tuesday’s ballot, said she was disappointed in the outcome.
“I worked long and hard on it,” she said. “I guess other people didn’t agree.”
County receives marijuana license applicationsMarch 25, 2014 —
EAGLE COUNTY — At the Sweet Leaf Pioneer medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle, Dieneka Manzanares gets calls and visitors just about every day. Many are tourists, looking to buy legal marijuana while on vacation to the Vail Valley. Right now, she has to turn them all away.
Those calls and visits are familiar to Murphy Murray, the co-owner and general manager of the Tree Line dispensary in Eagle-Vail.
Right now, only people who have doctor-issued cards can buy anything from Sweet Leaf, Tree Line or any of the other dispensaries in the valley. Sweet Leaf, which has its town of Eagle approval and is waiting for its state license, may be the first in the valley to open its doors to retail customers, perhaps as soon as April 20. Meanwhile, the process for the other dispensaries in the valley — all of which are located in unincorporated Eagle County — is proceeding slowly. Murray said it could realistically be late spring or early summer before that shop opens its retail operation.
While several shops in Denver and elsewhere opened Jan. 1 for retail marijuana sales, Eagle County finalized its marijuana regulations late last year. Those regulations require a county license in addition to one issued by the state. The county also put a limit of eight licenses for the entire county — six in the Eagle River Valley, and two for the Basalt-El Jebel area. Until recently, no one had applied for any of those licenses.
With an April 1 deadline looming for existing dispensaries to apply, Tree Line and one other dispensary have recently filed applications — along with the $2,000 application fee. County planner Scot Hunn expects more applications to come by next week, but here’s where the story gets, and remains, complicated.
Right now, dispensaries that want to sell recreational marijuana are given preference in both the county’s and state’s licensing process. That means a dispensary in “good standing” with the county and state will be first in line for a retail license. Hunn said three of the county’s five dispensaries are in good standing right now. Hunn said the other two aren’t in compliance primarily because of building code problems with their location. Those dispensaries are making “good faith” efforts to straighten out their standing.
What that means is that the doors are open to others who want into the retail marijuana business. But that door isn’t going to open until at least July 1, when the preference for medical operations is lifted.
Hunn said he and other county officials are now trying to find the most equitable way for those prospective operators to apply for a very limited number of licenses. That method could be as simple as a drawing between those with qualified applications.
Those operators will be behind the dispensaries in getting open. But even existing dispensaries have a lot of work to do. Among the reasons the county has a separate license application is the desire to ensure retail operators meet a number of building-code requirements. In a building with other tenants, those requirements are going to include proper ventilation so the odors associated with growing and harvesting weed don’t infiltrate other units.
At both Sweet Leaf and Tree Line, prospective retail space has been rented for some time, waiting for final regulations and requirements. And, of course, holding that space has required paying rent for square footage that won’t start paying for itself for at least four months after all the licenses have been issued.
“We can’t put a seed in a pot for recreational until we have our licenses,” Murray said.
Sweet Leaf at first will operate under the state’s “70/30” rule, meaning that just 30 percent of a dispensary’s product can be diverted to retail sales until Oct. 1. Tree Line will have dedicated retail product, but again, can’t start to grow until all its licenses are in place.
No matter how a retail operation gets its product, Murri said she expects demand to far outstrip supply for the foreseeable future.
“We’re seeing demand for as much as a couple of pounds a day,” Manzanares said. That’s quite a lot in a business where transactions are often done in fractions of an ounce.
Murri said even as Tree Line has expanded its inventory on the dispensary side, every ounce of new product is snapped up quickly.
Meanwhile, people keep calling and knocking on the door, asking for product that isn’t yet available.
Granby medical workers unknowingly ingest THC in holiday treatsMarch 24, 2014 —
GRANBY — A batch of drug-laced Chex-Mix delivered to Middle Park Medical Center staff around Christmastime has tested positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical compound found in marijuana, according to Granby Police Chief Bill Housley.
Though the department knows who delivered the treats and has transferred the case to the District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution, Housley said the District Attorney’s Office is inclined not to prosecute the case due to a lack of intent to deliver the THC-laced treats to the hospital staff.
“They are having a hard time proving that she deliberately delivered the treats,” Housley said.
The Sky-Hi place three calls to the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for comment on this case, but they were not returned.
According to Housley, the treats were delivered by a person who made two batches of the treats, one without the THC, originally intended for the hospital staff, and one with THC, intended for friends “who would appreciate the enhanced pleasurable effects,” he said.
“Lo and behold, she dropped the wrong one off before going to the medical center,” Housley said.
Neither party who received the treats was happy, according to Housley. Friends of the person who delivered the treats expected more than just Chex Mix, while three medical center employees had to leave work while dealing with unwanted side effects of THC.
When the police contacted the deliverer of the treats, she was “aghast and shameful,” Housley said. “She thought in good faith that she was delivering a treat to the hospital staff for a holiday treat,” he said.
While individual(s) who ingested the treats did not wish to speak to police, citing personal and professional concerns, the individual(s) who did speak with police reported feeling a light-headed type feeling. “They knew they weren’t feeling right mentally or physically,” Housley said.
The Middle Park Medical Center does not plan to pursue civil legal action in this matter, according to statements the hospital released on March 18.
But employees who ingested the THC wanted to pursue criminal proceedings, Housley said.
“Some of them were certainly willing to participate in a prosecution, they were obviously not pleased,” he said. “It cost them time at work because once they realized they were altered, they couldn’t work. At least they were responsible enough to take themselves out of work.”
As a preventative measure for the future, Middle Park Medical Center administration has implemented a policy “that employees cannot accept homemade goods from patients. Employees can accept manufactured wrapped goods,” according to the press release.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334
FBI balks at marijuana background checks in Washington, but not ColoradoMarch 14, 2014 —
SEATTLE — The FBI is refusing to run nationwide background checks on people applying to run legal marijuana businesses in Washington state, even though it has conducted similar checks in Colorado — a discrepancy that illustrates the quandary the Justice Department faces as it allows the states to experiment with regulating a drug that’s long been illegal under federal law.
Washington state has been asking for nearly a year if the FBI would conduct background checks on its applicants, to no avail. The bureau’s refusal raises the possibility that people with troublesome criminal histories could wind up with pot licenses in the state — undermining the department’s own priorities in ensuring that states keep a tight rein on the nascent industry.
It’s a strange jam for the feds, who announced last summer that they wouldn’t sue to prevent Washington and Colorado from regulating marijuana after 75 years of prohibition.
The Obama administration has said it wants the states to make sure pot revenue doesn’t go to organized crime and that state marijuana industries don’t become a cover for the trafficking of other illegal drugs. At the same time, it might be tough for the FBI to stomach conducting such background checks — essentially helping the states violate federal law.
The Justice Department declined to explain why it isn’t conducting the checks in Washington when it has in Colorado. Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, referred an Associated Press inquiry to DOJ headquarters, which would only issue a written statement.
“To ensure a consistent national approach, the department has been reviewing its background check policies, and we hope to have guidance for states in the near term,” it said in its entirety.
In Washington, three people so far have received licenses to grow marijuana — without going through a national background check, even though the state Liquor Control Board’s rules require that that they do so before a license is issued.
“The federal government has not stated why it has not yet agreed to conduct national background checks on our behalf,” Washington state Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith said in an email. “However, the Liquor Control Board is ready to deliver fingerprints as soon as DOJ is ready.”
In the meantime, officials are relying on background checks by the Washington State Patrol to catch any in-state arrests or convictions. Applicants must have lived in Washington state for three months before applying, and many are longtime Washington residents whose criminal history would likely turn up on a State Patrol check. But others specifically moved to the state in hopes of joining the new industry.
“Both Washington state and Washington, D.C., have been unequivocal that they want organized crime out of the marijuana business,” said Alison Holcomb, the Seattle lawyer who authored the legal pot law. “Requiring, and ensuring, nationwide background checks on Washington state licensees is a no-brainer.”
The FBI has run nationwide background checks since 2010 on applicants who sought to be involved in medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, Daria Serna, a spokeswoman for that state’s Department of Revenue, said in an email. The applicants provide fingerprints to Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, which turns them over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The agency conducts a statewide background check and supplies the prints to the FBI for a national check.
Because Colorado launched its marijuana industry by converting medical dispensaries to recreational pot shops, it’s likely that no additional background checks were required for the key employees of those shops, Serna said. However, all new employees of recreational or medical shops must undergo the same background checks — and those are still being processed, Serna said.
In Washington, officials use a point system to determine whether someone’s criminal history is too concerning to grant them a license to grow, process or sell marijuana under the state’s law, passed by voters in 2012. A felony within the past 10 years normally disqualifies an applicant, as does being under federal or state supervision for a felony conviction.
The state received more than 7,000 applications during a monthlong window that began in November. Applicants are required to supply fingerprints and disclose their criminal history, with omissions punishable by license forfeiture or denial. But without a federal background check, there’s no way for state officials to verify what the applicants report.
Under rules adopted by the Liquor Control Board, the applicants’ fingerprints must be submitted to the State Patrol and the FBI for checks as a condition of receiving a license. Asked whether issuing licenses without the FBI check contradicted that rule, Smith wrote: “Applicants have provided the prints necessary for running the check.”
Western Slope police officers watch weed industry evolveMarch 14, 2014 —
This is the final part in a two-part series focusing on marijuana law enforcement and education.
EAGLE COUNTY — Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson thinks anyone who feels strongly about either side of the legalized marijuana argument is just, excuse the pun, blowing smoke.
Wilson said the decision-making so far stems from who had the most money to throw at the campaign. In 10 or 20 years, Coloradoans might ask themselves what they’ve done. Or, perhaps they’ll ask what took so long to legalize weed in the first place.
“It’s a big roll of the dice,” Wilson said. “And we’ll find out if we won or lost in a generation.”
Wilson and every law enforcement officer in the state is facing that uncertainty head-on. New laws allow Colorado residents over the age of 21 to legally buy, use and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Out of state residents can purchase up to ¼ ounce in a single transaction, but can possess up to one ounce.
New laws equal new laws to be broken. Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy doesn’t think legalized weed means his department will have less to do in the way of enforcement. In fact, it could turn out to be just the opposite.
“There’s still enough illegal marijuana out there coming in to the state,” Hoy said. “We still have enough (illegal) business out there we need to deal with.”
And, marijuana is still illegal to use in public. It’s illegal for anyone under 21 without a medical marijuana card, and it’s illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.
“Arrests will be made based on our understanding of the laws,” Wilson said. “Court proceedings and appeals will flesh out what little there is in the gray areas.”
Wilson expects public consumption to be one of the bigger concerns as legal recreational marijuana integrates into mountain communities. He remembers a wave of public pot smoking after medical marijuana was legalized when officers frequently found users lighting up right on Main Street.
Wilson said he knows another police officer who works near the Colorado-Wyoming border, where every weekend it’s like a Cheech and Chong movie. Wyoming residents are being caught coming back from Colorado with marijuana, their cars often completely full of smoke when they’re pulled over.
While those kinds of traffic stops make it easy for police officers trying to determine whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana, there are plenty of traffic stops when it’s not so obvious. That’s why law enforcement agencies across the mountain resort region and the state are training officers in drug recognition.
The Colorado Drug Recognition Expert program began in 1987, but the state’s new legalized marijuana industry is making it more popular. Wilson has multiple officers trained, while Hoy said he has three officers trained through the program. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department has one expert, said Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, and in Breckenridge — where there are four operating recreational marijuana stores open — Police Chief Shannon Haynes said her officers are familiar with roadside tests for marijuana. She’s also sending an officer to the drug recognition expert training.
“There’s a big push across the state to get more trained in drug recognition,” Haynes said.
There’s also a push to get the state to cough up more of its marijuana tax proceeds. The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police last week sent a letter to the state asking for access to funds for enforcement because officers are having to divert their time away from other priorities.
Driving under the influence
The Colorado Department of Transportation launched a campaign last week targeting “drugged driving.” The education campaign — called Drive High, Get a DUI — is a direct response to legalized marijuana. In 2012, the department reported 630 drivers involved in 472 motor vehicle fatalities in Colorado. Of the 630 drivers, 286 were tested for drugs, with 12 percent testing positive for cannabis.
Avon Police Chief Bob Ticer is chair of the Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving and is promoting the CDOT campaign locally. He said police departments are not only certifying more drug recognition experts, but also more Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, known as ARIDE. That program isn’t as intensive as the drug recognition expert program, but it goes beyond the level of training police officers receive in police academies.
“The whole intent of this campaign in public awareness that it’s unlawful to drive a vehicle under the influence of any substance,” Ticer said. “We are really wanting to emphasize that (marijuana) is a substance that causes impairment.”
A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that 6.8 percent of drivers, mostly under age 35, who were involved in accidents tested positive for THC; alcohol levels above the legal limit were found in 21 percent of such drivers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Marijuana impairs judgment, motor coordination and slows reaction time, research shows.
“We’ve had impaired drivers by marijuana since people have been driving cars,” Ticer said. “There are misperceptions about it — some think it’s not as dangerous as alcohol to drive on. I would say that it’s just a different drug; it acts differently in the body.”
And when people mix drugs — marijuana and alcohol are common pairings — impairment increases.
The American Association for Clinical Chemistry reported in 2013 that cannabis is second only to alcohol for causing impaired driving and motor vehicle accidents. The research, which was published in the journal Clinical Chemistry, also reported that cannabis smokers had a 10-fold increase in car crash injury compared with infrequent or nonusers.
The concern over impairment expands beyond Colorado’s roadways, too. At the end of February, Vail Resorts and the U.S. Forest Service announced they would be working together to destroy so-called “smoke shacks” at the company’s ski resorts. The illegal structures had been built for the purposes of smoking marijuana while skiing, something that is just as illegal as driving under the influence.
“The safety of our guests and our employees is our highest priority and we therefore take a zero tolerance approach to skiing or riding under the influence,” said Blaise Carrig, president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division, in a joint statement released by the company and the Forest Service. “We do not permit the consumption of marijuana in or on any of our lifts, facilities or premises that we control. … We want the public to know that the consequences of being caught smoking marijuana on our mountains are removal from the mountain and the suspension of skiing and riding privileges.”
Recreational marijuana store owners are also trying to inform customers who might not know the laws. At Stash, a store just across from the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, co-owner Garrett Patrick told a Texas couple last week where they should consume their pot. He specifically said not while driving or skiing.
The woman, in her 60s, shrugged her shoulders after Patrick walked away and said she’d be using her newly purchased cannabis on the chair lift.
Pitkin Sheriff Joe DiSalvo hopes efforts throughout his county and the entire mountain resort region will result in more responsible marijuana use. Because so many of the customers walking into the pot shops in places like Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge will be tourists, educating them truly is up to the communities, he said.
That’s why DiSalvo was so supportive of Jordan Lewis, owner of the Silverpeak Apothecary in downtown Aspen.
“He’s doing it the right way,” DiSalvo said.
Anyone who purchases marijuana at Silverpeak can ask a staff member anything about the laws, but Lewis also provides a pamphlet that guides customers toward responsible use. It outlines everything from consumption guidelines to possession laws. Conveniently, there’s also a disclaimer on the back cover telling customers the contents of the pamphlet should not be taken as legal or medical advice.
“Our goal was to establish an environment that allowed for interaction and education that people would feel comfortable about,” Lewis said. “We want to remove all the reservations people have about buying cannabis and create an environment where they feel safe and secure and it feels appropriate.”
In Breckenridge, Haynes said the ratio of tourists to locals buying marijuana at the beginning of the year was 8 to 1. So, the town and police department have worked together to pass out information much like Lewis’s pamphlet in Aspen. Haynes said they’ve printed about 2,000 informational cards with the basic facts and a link pointing tourists toward more information. The cards are available at hotels, restaurants, town hall, the police department and the recreation center.
The town and police department are also working with nonprofits and Colorado Mountain College on panel discussions.
“I do still feel like we don’t know what we don’t know,” Haynes said. “There will be things that pop up that we didn’t anticipate.”
One of those ‘things’ on her mind is the fact that marijuana stores are cash businesses because most can’t get financing from federally insured banks. That means credit cards aren’t accepted, too. Haynes thinks the state did a good job mandating surveillance cameras and other security measures, but you never know. She said there has only been one burglary of a medical marijuana store since they opened in town roughly 4 years ago.
“Knock on wood,” she said.
Paying the man
Bryan Welker feels a lot better about buying marijuana legally, even though the state and municipalities have imposed hefty taxes. Welker, of Carbondale, was the first person the legally buy recreational weed in Pitkin County last week.
He hopes that paying those taxes helps keep marijuana in the right hands.
“It’s above ground now — let’s make it harder to get for kids, not easier,” Welker said. “I think we’ve moved this beyond the alley deal. I don’t think people want to go back to that, but price drives everything. It’s better to pay the government the money than a cartel — I don’t think anybody would disagree with that”
Drugs like heroin, cocaine and illegal market marijuana are rising in popularity in the mountains, though, Hoy said. While the back alley deal might not be necessary anymore, he doesn’t think it’s going to disappear. Undersheriff Mike McWilliam expects the Mexican drug cartels to find a way into the legal business.
“It’s a very big concern of mine that more of the stuff will get into the schools, especially edibles and all of that,” he said. “I don’t think the Mexican drug cartels are going to throw up their hands and say, ‘forget it.’”
Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 970-777-3125.
Recreational pot is here — now what?March 13, 2014 —
Editor’s note: This is the first part in a two-part series about the effects of legalized marijuana on children and law enforcement agencies.
EAGLE COUNTY — Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo hugged Silverpeak Apothecary owner Jordan Lewis just before the store made its first recreational marijuana sale March 5.
“I’m glad you’re doing this,” DiSalvo told him. “This is a big deal for all of us. You’re doing this the right way — this is the model.”
It was a sight that might have seemed normal in Aspen, but it was still a sight that made you scratch your head a little bit. A sheriff hugging a pot shop owner — you don’t see that every day.
Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws, which were written, rewritten and revised throughout 2013, took effect Jan. 1 of this year. Since then, law enforcement agencies around the state have been adjusting to the times, with many chiefs and sheriffs reacting with less enthusiasm or optimism than DiSalvo has.
But DiSalvo feels he has no reason to respond any other way. The two dispensaries that were the first to open in Pitkin County for recreational sales — Stash and the Silverpeak Apothecary, both on March 5 — were responsible throughout the entire application process, DiSalvo said.
“I think they waited to do it right and I think that’s a big part of why I feel a little more comfortable,” he said. “I just want it to be done right.”
A right to weed
“Nobody wakes up at 9 a.m. to buy weed.”
That’s what Bryan Welker, of Carbondale, said after becoming the first person to buy legal recreational marijuana in Pitkin County March 5. It was 9:30 a.m. and Stash, located in the Aspen Business Center in unincorporated Pitkin County, had been open for recreational sales for 30 minutes. Only a handful of customers had walked through the doors by mid-morning, though.
Welker handles marketing for the business and arrived that morning to snap a few pictures. When he saw no one in line, he immediately realized he had the opportunity to become a part of Pitkin County history.
“So, I took that opportunity,” he said with a smile.
It was an exciting time for the store’s owners and employees. The guy checking IDs in the foyer area struggled to get his ID swipe machine to work, but other than that it was smooth sailing. Customers, most of whom did not look like stereotypical potheads, trickled through the doors all morning to buy marijuana.
A couple in their 60s came in, donning designer ski gear including a Descente jacket and a Gucci belt. They curiously looked at the display cases and quickly asked a staff member for help choosing the right marijuana products to smoke through an electronic smoking device.
The Texas couple has a second home in Aspen and wanted to stock up before skiing Aspen Mountain for the day. They didn’t want their names published, because “you never know who, of your friends up here, would be totally against this,” the woman said softly in a Southern accent.
Her husband said they hadn’t tried marijuana in 35 years and wanted to experiment again. They chose the electronic device because they don’t like the smell of weed or the idea that it might coat their clothing or furniture when smoked.
Weed on the brain
An Aspen mother of two, Jenn, came in around 9:45 a.m. after dropping her kids off at ski school for the day. The 40-something mom, who didn’t want her last name published, said she used to protest for marijuana legalization 20 years ago while attending college in Northern California. She made her purchase and was thrilled to finally exercise her right, she said.
While her children are not old enough yet, Jenn knows that she’ll someday be the one to educate them about substances like alcohol and marijuana. She admits she feels more guarded about legal marijuana than others might because she’s a mother. She questions whether the legal purchase age of 21 is too young since research shows that brains are still developing up to 25 years old.
That’s a point that DiSalvo and the Valley Marijuana Council, a group organized by DiSalvo made up of community and business leaders, want to drive home. The group has been working to promote marijuana education for children in the Roaring Fork Valley as legal recreational marijuana integrates into the community.
“The main message is, ‘It’s not for (children) — delay, delay, delay; put this off as long as you can,’” DiSalvo said. “If you can make it past 21, you’ve done yourself a big favor. … This is not a product for children. We have to keep hammering that home like we do with alcohol, driving, coffee — all the things we don’t want kids to do when they’re developing.”
In a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin about the impacts of alcohol and marijuana on the young brain, early marijuana use points to severe cognitive consequences.
“Converging lines of evidence suggest that regular use of marijuana, starting before 18, is associated with increased deficits in poorer attention, visual search, reduced overall or verbal IQ, and executive functioning,” the report states.
Colorado Teen Weed Brain is another group that formed in the Roaring Fork Valley to tackle this very subject. The group hosts educational forums to spread the word to parents and children in the community that marijuana, although legal, is not OK for kids. Their next meeting features a panel of medical and industry professionals on April 17 at Carbondale Middle School.
Roaring Fork School District spokeswoman Sheryl Barto said school principals have been reporting increased use and availability of marijuana since the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“Much of this is what students are reporting and what adults are observing; we haven’t yet seen statistical confirmation,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if we find spikes when we do our annual health surveys.”
School district officials had tried to examine discipline data over the past few years to determine whether there were changes in disciplinary action since medical marijuana was legalized, but data samples were too small, she said.
The 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a risk behavior survey of middle and high school students in Colorado done every two years, shows that marijuana use had not increased among high school students since medical marijuana became legal. Results from the 2013 survey are not yet available.
While things are running pretty smoothly in Breckenridge, where Police Chief Shannon Haynes said there hasn’t been an increase in marijuana-related issues since recreational shops opened in town at the beginning of the year, she still has concerns about local children and teenagers.
Still illegal for children
“That’s my only fear, I think, in this whole big picture,” she said. “Sometimes we lose sight of the education piece that is so important for our youth. Because of the medical piece and being around that for a couple of years, I think our youth starts to think of this as not an intoxicating substance like alcohol. We have to work hard to ensure we’re education our young people about the risk.”
Haynes said that’s happening in Summit County — that schools, social services and nonprofits are partnering together to spread the message. She’s encouraged by results in the community, too. Between the start of ski season and the end of December, she said Breckenridge issued 15 tickets to minors openly consuming marijuana.
“But it’s dropped off drastically since Jan. 1,” she said.
The Eagle River Youth Coalition, a nonprofit in Eagle County that works with schools and youth throughout the region on reducing substance abuse, has multiple efforts underway to prevent marijuana use. A program in its pilot stage at Berry Creek Middle School, called Project Alert, was so successful last fall that it will be growing this year, the coalition’s executive director Michelle Hartel Stecher said. For high schools, a similar program called Project Towards No Drug Abuse is also successfully underway. Both programs teach students about drugs during health classes at school.
There are no recreational marijuana stores open yet in Eagle County, but the coalition is already well prepared for challenges relating to the new industry.
“The biggest shift we’re seeing is that kids are reporting that marijuana is less harmful,” Hartel Stecher said. “When less harm is perceived, typically kids will start doing that behavior more. … Another shift we’re seeing is that they’re reporting it’s easier to get, so that’s concerning for us.”
In Eagle County, surveys show that kids report that “someone gave it to me” as the most common way they access marijuana, she said.
The news has prompted new programs for parents, such as parent education workshops that teach parents how to handle conversations about drugs with their teenage children. The next program is six sessions, spread over six weeks, beginning April 7.
At the Eagle County School District, which also works closely with the Eagle River Youth Coalition, lessons about drugs focus on the consequences of drug use so students can make the right decisions, said spokesman Dan Dougherty. Instruction has also adapted with the times as educators see new issues to be concerned about.
“The legalization of marijuana has elevated the sophistication of the drug culture — vapor cigarettes can be adapted for marijuana, prescription inhalers, the odor is being reduced and/or eliminated to make it harder to detect — so our instruction is responding to include these new techniques,” Dougherty said. “This has a two-fold effect: it conveys that we know what is going on (and how to catch wrong doing), and warns them of what to be leery of.”
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson likes the community collaboration he’s seeing in response to legalized marijuana, but he’s not so sure the true effects of legalized marijuana will be known for some time. When medical marijuana was legalized, he was pleasantly surprised that his department saw a lot less trouble with it than anticipated. He said there was, however, “a proliferation of 16-year-olds showing up at high school smoked out of their gourds.”
“I truly don’t believe we’re going to understand the consequences for 10 to 20 years,” Wilson said. “Are we going to raise a generation of people less developed and less productive because of allowances we’re making? The answer scares me.”
Read tomorrow’s paper for part 2, which looks at the law enforcement side of legalized marijuana.
Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-777-3125.
Vail Resorts issues statement on mountain ‘smoke shacks’March 12, 2014 —
VAIL — When a structure on the ski hill comes down, for many it’s a sad moment.
Whether it’s Two Elk, destroyed illegally in 1998, or Jaz’s Cabin, destroyed in the name of the law in 2012, it’s been said it’s like losing a close friend or family member. Breckenridge skiers felt that sadness this week with the destruction of their beloved “Leo’s” cabin, but the dynamite used to destroy it was only the beginning of the explosion, as social media sites blew up with activity in response and Vail Resorts issued a press release on the matter.
But long-time local residents in Vail say this is nothing new — shack builders have been putting up secret structures, and the Forest Service has been tearing them down, since the ’60s. Places like the fabled Tuck ‘em Inn, or the Ice Bar on Vail Mountain come to mind.
Vail legend Bill Whiteford is mentioned in Vail’s 50th anniversary movie, “The Rise of America’s Iconic Ski Resort,” where his Ice Bar structure on Vail Mountain was not only erected illegally, it was profitable.
“We went up there at night, gathered ice blocks, built the ice bar at night and opened it during the day,” an unnamed accomplice says in the movie. “It was a howling success.”
Guilt by association
The Ice Bar was eventually torn down — as was the Tuck ‘em Inn, with its wood floors and silk sheets — and countless others since.
So, why the press release this time? It’s the structures’ link to marijuana that has Vail Resorts officials on edge, and the jargon applied to them hasn’t helped, either.
The structures are “commonly referred to as ‘smoke shacks,’” Russ Pecoraro, director of Vail Resorts communications wrote in the release, adding that they are “associated with prohibited marijuana use.”
Although the release references illegal structures and not marijuana in its headline, the statement was less about the shacks, and more about how the resort is going to handle marijuana on the slopes, Pecoraro said.
“I think the impression a lot of people are getting from the media is that you can come out here and consume marijuana on our slopes and we are here to tell you, you can’t do that. (The press release) is an example of what me mean,” Pecoraro said.
Some shacks survive
Breckenridge officials said a hidden-camera report about marijuana smoking at Leo’s — featured on Inside Edition in February — accelerated the cabin’s demise. But Leo’s was targeted to be destroyed anyway, Breckenridge Resort wrote on their official Facebook page, so it was just a matter of time. Structures on Vail Mountain have been destroyed nearly every spring during the past few years, including a 20-foot tall tree house in the spring of 2011. Structures such as the tree house at Vail and Leo’s at Breck, some of them are quite impressive.
However, “the long and short of it is, it’s illegal to build these structures without a permit on National Forest land, so we’re there to uphold our end of the bargain with the Forest Service,” Pecoraro said. “It’s this game, where we tear them down, and they build them back up.”
But not every shack on Vail Moutain will be destroyed, Pecoraro added.
“There are a couple that are historical sites,” he said. “We need to figure out a different way to approach those, whether it’s boarding them up or whatever ... We have talked at a high-level that these cases are out there, but I don’t know exactly where they are located.”
WHAT ABOUT BOOZE?
Pecoraro said safety on the mountain is the resort’s top priority, and acknowledged that many are asking the question “what about alcohol?”
“The difference with alcohol is also we have people serving in bars who are certified and trained not to over serve folks,” he said.
The resort plans to step-up enforcement of any kind of skiing under the influence, alcohol or marijuana, Pecoraro said. Pecoraro said he didn’t know the measures that will used to determine what constitutes “under the influence,” but those determined to be under the influence risk legal issues as well as resort penalties.
“We are going to report folks to ski patrol or security. We are going to pull your pass. We are going to kick you off the mountain, and if law enforcement happens to be there when we do that, you’re going to get cited as well,” he said.
Is legal marijuana harming Colorado business?March 12, 2014 —
EAGLE COUNTY — Led Gardner is worried.
Gardner, a broker with Slifer Smith & Frampton, is concerned that legal marijuana in Colorado may prompt some people — specifically some of the valley’s high-end clients — to take their business elsewhere.
Gardner isn’t alone in that concern, but he has a first-hand story to tell. He’s been showing expensive property to a family from the eastern part of the U.S. and in an email wrote that family members are concerned about the atmosphere legal marijuana is creating in what they believe is a “family-friendly” resort.
“They told me it might not be wise to buy here because of the law,” Gardner said.
Gardner was particularly concerned when the Vail Daily put news about marijuana on the front page, a sentiment echoed by other brokers.
“It plays into fears many of our clients have,” he said. “There are a number of instances I’ve heard about from other people.”
SOME SAY FEARS OVERBLOWN
But other people in the business of catering to high-end clients believe those fears are overblown.
“I haven’t heard a word in here except my husband joking about it,” Sunny Smith said. Smith’s husband, Shelton, owns the Shelton Smith Collection, a gallery of high-end art and artifacts near the Covered Bridge on Bridge Street.
The gallery, like many shops selling expensive things, relies on building relationships with people. And, Smith said, she hasn’t heard any of those people mention the law at all.
Craig Denton hasn’t heard anything, either. Denton, a broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Colorado Properties who specializes in resort property, acknowledges that he went to college at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1970s, so he may have a more live-and-let-live attitude about marijuana use. But, he said, none of his clients have mentioned the law.
“Do they think it doesn’t exist elsewhere? It’s been around forever,” Denton said of people who may worry about legal marijuana.
‘HARDLY ANY DIFFERENT’
Ron Byrne, owner of a Vail-based real estate company that bears his name, has been selling expensive real estate in the valley for decades, but describes himself as “an old hippie” and “a rock ‘n’ roller from Detroit.” But, Byrne said, none of his clients have mentioned the law, either.
“It’s so controlled, it’s hardly any different than it was before,” Byrne said. “By putting it front and center ... that may make it slightly safer.”
Bryne said the current publicity about the law may end up being “much ado about nothing” — that the opening of a new shop in a few years won’t raise eyebrows any more than the opening of a new liquor store.
Gardner agreed with Byrne on that point. But the here and now is a different situation.
THOSE WHO VOTED ‘NO’
While Colorado voters in 2012 decisively passed Amendment 64 — the amendment to the state constitution that legalized the use and sale of marijuana for recreational use — more than 40 percent of state voters said “no” to the measure. A significant number of locals disagreed, and many are saying the same things Gardner is now.
“I’m being asked about it by families who could just as easily got to Park City,” Gardner said. “And what do you say to your high schooler who says, ‘It’s OK (to use pot) — it’s legal,’” Gardner said. “The issue is why would we want to sensationalize it?”
Retail reefer sales brisk in market’s first monthMarch 12, 2014 —
DENVER – In their first month of legality, Colorado’s reefer retailers sold $45 million in legal reefer, and generated $3.5 million in tax and fee revenue for the state.
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, January saw $14 million in legal reefer sales to adults, and another $31 million in medical marijuana sales.
January’s legal reefer pumped $2.1 million to Colorado’s state coffers in tax and fee revenue. Medical cannabis taxes and fees added another $1.4 million, according to the Department of Revenue data.
Eagle County, which doesn’t yet have retail marijuana sales, saw $4,141 in sales taxes on $276,066 in medical marijuana sales, the Department of Revenue report said. That’s not much of a dent in Eagle County total January sales tax revenue, $2,492,381.
Eagle County and towns have several medical marijuana shops, but so far no reefer retailers.
Eagle County has room for eight reefer retailers, and while some medical marijuana shops have discusses the possibility of retail sales, none have yet finished applying for one of those eight licenses, according to the county’s community development department.
The Front Rangers
On the Front Range, though, cannabis companies are ecstatic.
“The month of January showed the world that taking marijuana off the streets and putting it behind a taxed, regulated counter can be done professionally, productively, and prosperously,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
In Colorado, 59 cannabis companies sell legal reefer. They pay a 10 percent special sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax, approved by Colorado voters last November.
Gov. John Hickenlooper projected that combined sales from both legal medical and recreational marijuana could hit nearly $1 billion in the first year, about $600 million from recreational sales. The state would collect at least $134 million in taxes and fees.
The numbers will get bigger, with more than 150 recreational marijuana dispensaries now licensed around the state, and more being added.
The Cannabis Kids
Cannabis advocates, including three members of Congress — Rep. Jared Polis will be among them — are so encouraged that they’re storming the Bastille, heading to Washington, D.C., to try to convince lawmakers that because Colorado’s first month worked so well, they should kill the federal prohibition.
“It’s time for Congress to reconcile outdated federal laws with those of states like Colorado that have decided to opt out of the failed experiment of marijuana prohibition,” Smith said.
Polis is the lead sponsor of a bill that would do just do that. The Ending Federal Prohibition Act — HR-499 — would lift the federal prohibition on marijuana, allowing local, county and state governments to regulate marijuana as they currently do alcohol.
The cannabis advocates make their case Thursday morning in the Cannon House Office Building with a briefing on the growing support for the legal cannabis industry.
Polis inserted a provision into the Farm Bill that legalized growing industrial hemp in states where marijuana is legal — so far Colorado and Washington. Even though he voted against the Farm Bill, it passed and was signed into law with that provision in it.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.
State launches campaign to discourage pot-impaired drivingMarch 8, 2014 —
EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado made history when we became the first state to legalize marijuana, but the Colorado Department of Transportation wants you to understand that driving under the influence of anything except good karma is a monumentally bad idea.
That includes the newly legalized marijuana, said Amy Ford, CDOT’s communications director.
“We did extensive research about medical and recreational marijuana users’ perceptions of marijuana’s effects on driving,” Ford said. “We heard repeatedly that people thought marijuana didn’t impact their driving ability. Some believed it actually made them a better driver.”
Impaired is illegal
It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, of course, the same as it’s illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance, Ford said.
“We have been providing CDOT with a voice from the marijuana community,” said Michael Elliott, Marijuana Industry Group executive director. “We want this new industry to thrive, and the best way to do that is to ensure marijuana users and the industry understands the laws and regulations, and consumes marijuana responsibly.”
The DUI limit is 0.08 blood-alcohol limit. Get caught driving with 5 nanograms of active THC in your whole blood, and you’ll be prosecuted for a DUI. However, law enforcement officers base arrests on observed impairment, not the level of THC, Ford said.
A DUI will cost you just over $10,000 in court costs and attorneys fees. Driving high will cost you about the same.
“As Coloradans now have more access to marijuana, we want them to be aware that law enforcement is trained to identify impairment by all categories of drugs and alcohol,” said Col. Scott Hernandez, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “Drug recognition experts are highly trained law enforcement officers who can detect the impairment of drugs and today we celebrate the graduation of more than 20 new DREs in the state.”
Using marijuana medically can also result in a DUI, Hernandez said. If a substance has impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle it is illegal for you to be driving, even if that substance is prescribed or legally acquired.
In 2012, there were 630 drivers involved in 472 motor vehicle fatalities in Colorado. Of the 630 drivers involved, 286 were tested for drugs. Nearly 27 percent of drivers tested positive, and 12 percent testing positive for cannabis.
When combining substances, there is a greater degree of impairment. If a driver is under the influence of alcohol, their risk of a fatal crash is 13 times higher than the risk of a sober driver. If the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increases to 24 times that of a sober driver, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Commissioners seek clarity on marijuana scienceFebruary 27, 2014 —
Hot Sulphur Springs — County officials are working to clear the haze of marijuana confusion before they tamp down their marijuana employee policy.
During their regular public meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25, the board of county commissioners had Sarah Urfer of ChemaTox Laboratory, Inc. provide some clarification to the murkiness of marijuana use. She provided insight on best testing practices, how to determine impairment and how to develop policy.
Marijuana may now be legal for adults in Colorado, regulated similar to alcohol, but that’s about where the similarities between the two substances end. County commissioners and staff all agree having workers stoned on the job is unacceptable, but proving an employee is high isn’t as simple as a roadside test or blowing into a breathalyzer.
“It’s not like alcohol, it doesn’t eliminate the same way,” Urfer told commissioners.
For drug testing, employers often use blood or urine testing to determine if tetrahydrocannbinol, or THC, was present in the body. THC is the psychoactive substance in cannabis plants that causes a person to get high. According to Urfer, THC will only remain in a person’s system for around one to four hours, regardless of how much marijuana was ingested.
But THC also leaves behind a telling metabolite as the body processes it. Although both urine and blood testing are commonly used to find the metabolite, Urfer has a strong preference on which type of test she prefers.
“Blood, blood, blood,” she told commissioners. “I don’t want to ever see another urine sample as long as I live.”
That’s because urine samples only indicate use within the last 1 to 4 weeks. With blood, tests can usually determine if a person was high within the last 24 hours.
County staff also brought up concerns about prolonged marijuana use affecting employees’ productivity levels, even if they’re never high at work. Urfer explained these concerns aren’t unfounded. As THC moves through the body, its metabolites bind to the brain.
For marijuana chronic users, this can lead to a tolerance of some of the drug’s side effects, like memory loss and the munchies, but “unfortunately, that (also) means they have a chronic central nervous system depressant in the body, which slows them down,” Urfer said. “It can cause depression, slow reaction time (and) issues with perception.”
For adults, however, these effects are reversible within one to six months once a person stops consuming marijuana. But Urfer stressed that in children under 18, marijuana causes permanent brain damage.
The nuances surrounding marijuana use have baffled lawmakers in other areas as well. Urfer was a key source for the Colorado state legislature as state officials drafted up new DUI regulations. Legislators finally settled on a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as the legal limit in determining if a driver is impaired. Urfer took issue with that level however, explaining to Grand County commissioners that impairment for most people starts at 1 nanogram per milliliter.
“There was some serious confusion in the legislature about the (scientific) literature,” she explained.
Urfer said that in her opinion, lawmakers ultimately attempted to compromise by selecting a high number that’s essentially made up and not based on sound science.
Beyond consulting policymakers, Urfer has had her plate full since her lab took over much of the state’s blood-alcohol and blood-drug testing. Toxicology analysis at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was suspended last July, and terminated altogether in October, after public concerns over the accuracy of their testing. An independent lab later verified the state’s testing integrity, but CDPHE officials decided not to resume testing at the state lab. They found private labs like ChemaTox had done an adequate job handling the state’s testing needs, at more competitive prices.
With all her expertise, Urfer’s ultimate recommendation for the county’s marijuana employee policy was simple – zero tolerance.
“Because of the complications we just talked about … it has always been my recommendation to people concerned about impairment on the job that they just not allow marijuana, period, to avoid any argument later,” Urfer said.
Commissioners are taking Urfer’s insight into consideration, but have yet to adopt any formal policy.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
First Colo. county reports its marijuana taxesFebruary 25, 2014 —
DENVER — A southern Colorado county with two recreational marijuana stores has become the first in the state to announce tax totals from the new industry.
Pueblo County finance authorities announced Monday that its two shops had about $1 million in total sales in January, producing about $56,000 in local sales taxes.
Pueblo County is the only place between Denver and the New Mexico state line that currently allows recreational pot stores. Its two shops were joined by three more that opened in February.
“We recognize that the eyes of the world are watching us, and we are proud to have erected a robust regulatory environment in Pueblo County,” County Commissioner Sal Pace said in a statement Tuesday.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz projected the marijuana industry will generate roughly $670,000 in new tax revenue for his county this year. The money is a combination of a 3.5 percent pot sales tax approved by county voters last year, as well as “share-backs” from the state on general and pot-specific sales taxes.
If Pueblo’s sales continue at the January pace, the county’s pot industry will make about $11.2 million in gross sales in 2014, Ortiz projected. The county’s total budget is about $165 million a year.
Colorado has more than 160 licensed recreational pot stores, all of whom had to report sales taxes Feb. 20. Most of the stores are in Denver County, which hasn’t yet reported its January tax haul.
Pueblo County is the first local government to make its recreational marijuana sales tax totals public. Statewide totals are expected early next month.
Pueblo officials joked about the pot tax haul Monday in a county finance meeting.
“The irony is that the only new revenue we have coming in is in marijuana, and yet we have to open a new judicial building,” Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen quipped, according to a report Tuesday in The (Pueblo) Chieftain.
County Budget and Finance Director Cal Hamler replied, “We’re going to have to sell more weed.”
Marijuana legalization plan stalls in New MexicoFebruary 7, 2014 —
SANTA FE, N.M. — A proposal to allow New Mexico voters to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana stalled Friday, putting the measure in doubt — for now.
At a disjointed meeting, the Senate Rules Committee failed to debate the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for the possession and personal use of marijuana for those 21 years of age and older.
Instead, committee members got bogged down in debates over a minimum wage proposal and a measure to change election laws.
The failure to bring up the marijuana proposal angered a handful of activists, some from out of state, who sat through the meeting for a chance to speak up in support of legalizing marijuana in New Mexico.
The proposal’s sponsor, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, said he hopes the committee debates the measure next week. If not, he wasn’t sure whether there was enough time before the legislative session ends Feb. 20.
“We have a chance to get it passed,” he said. “But it’s going to take a lot of work.”
It’s unclear how much support the measure has in the Senate Rules Committee.
If lawmakers approve the proposed constitutional amendment the question would be decided by voters in the general election.
However, the plan is likely to face difficulty in the Legislature, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez opposes marijuana legalization.
Colorado and Washington state have legalized marijuana. Pot stores opened in Colorado last month, and sales are expected to start in Washington later this year.
Grand County considers zero tolerance pot policy for employeesFebruary 5, 2014 —
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — County commissioners may have agreed to allow recreational marijuana businesses, but they may prohibit their own employees from partaking.
Current regulations for county employees prohibit working while under the influence of any substance that could cause harm to themselves or others. County commissioners and staff agree this policy should continue, but things become murkier with marijuana’s legalization in the state of Colorado.
Commissioners must now decide if they’ll adopt a “zero tolerance” policy, meaning employees will be banned from smoking off the job, or if they’ll treat marijuana like alcohol, allowing employees the freedom to choose during their personal time.
“An individual can do what they want to do, that’s why I voted in favor of (recreational) marijuana,” said commissioner Gary Bumgarner during a workshop on Tuesday, Feb. 4. “You can work for Grand County, but you have to follow Grand County rules, which to me is zero (marijuana) until such time that science catches up.”
Marijuana produces two compounds as it interacts with the body, called metabolites. Enforcers can test for these metabolites to determine if a person has used marijuana, but the presence of a metabolite doesn’t necessary mean a person is high. One metabolite is inactive, meaning the tested person could have consumed marijuana months ago. The second metabolite is active, implying the marijuana was recently consumed, and the person could be under the influence of cannabis’s psychoactive effects.
Urine testing will show both inactive and active metabolites, but won’t differentiate between the two. Blood testing is the most practical way of telling how many of the metabolites are active, but is more costly and less convenient than urine testing.
Also clouding the issue is the lagging science on the lingering effects of marijuana – how different levels affect different people, how long it takes the “high” to wear off, and how to know the levels of active ingredients in each marijuana plant. Although Colorado’s Amendment 64 now regulates marijuana like alcohol, this lack of information makes marijuana use much harder to enforce than alcohol.
The commissioners and staff all agreed during the Tuesday workshop that no employee should be allowed to work while high, with active marijuana metabolites in his or her system. Some argue that a zero tolerance policy, prohibiting all marijuana use, is the best way to protect the county from liability.
“It’s just so much easier,” said Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola. “It’s easier to say ‘any marijuana in your system, you’re done’ … it’s easier for enforcement agencies.”
Still, commissioners Merrit Linke and James Newberry cited their reluctance to adopt a zero tolerance policy for marijuana use, with Linke saying it’s impractical and unenforceable and Newberry implying it created a double standard.
“We have broken new ground in Colorado, whether we like it or not,” Newberry said, referring to the state’s legalization of cannabis consumption for adults. “That we’re going to fire everyone with a trace of marijuana, that makes no sense to me.”
Because it was a workshop, the commissioners didn’t make any decisions or adopt any resolutions on the matter. Over the coming weeks, they’ll be bringing in experts to help them understand the issue further.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
Marijuana superstore proposed for EagleJanuary 24, 2014 —
EAGLE — A Denver-based group has proposed a $5 million marijuana superstore for Eagle.
Rocky Mountain Pure Retail Marijuana would include a 6,000-square-foot retail operation and a 22,500-square-foot indoor cultivation center to support the store. The proposal was submitted in late December and was reviewed by the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission this week. In a split vote, commission members recommended approval of the proposed operation with a number of conditions. The Eagle Town Board will have the final say regarding the proposal, and the public hearing is planned for Feb. 11.
“It is our intent to work in cooperation with the town of Eagle to develop Rocky Mountain Pure, the nation’s premier retail marijuana destination, on the 5-acre parcel located at 1125 Chambers,” said applicant Ethan Borg of Colorado Cannabis Co., of Denver.
Borg noted that Colorado Cannabis Co. was established in 2009 and employs 30 people in three medical marijuana centers, a commercial infused product kitchen, a commercial cannabis extraction and concentrates laboratory and 14,000 square feet of medical marijuana indoor cultivation. All of these operations are located in the City and County of Denver.
“Rocky Mountain Pure will be a destination that Coloradoans and visitors alike will come to know as the location to not only purchase the best available products, but to learn about the wonders of cannabis and the last 90 years of prohibition, to enjoy the facilities and to even gather together for a cup of coffee in our world-class botanical gardens,” said Borg.
To that aim, Rocky Mountain Pure has proposed:
6,000-square-foot retail store.
22,500-square-foot indoor cultivation facility.
45,000-square-foot green house operation (for export product).
3,600-square-foot extraction laboratory.
12,000 square feet of “other commercial space.”
3,750-square-foot “prohibition museum.”
Borg said “an economic stimulus will be experienced in the town within a year. From the construction needs of a $5 million facility to the potential of generating more than $500,000 in tax revenues annually (year 5), Rocky Mountain Pure will simultaneously diversify and help to balance the economic base.”
While members of the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission did vote 5-2 to recommend approval of the proposal to the Eagle Town Board, members attached seven conditions to their action. The very first one goes to the heart of the issue.
In its deliberations, the planning commission members noted the town board has the ability to determine the size of retail marijuana facilities in the community.
“There was a lot of discussion about the size of the proposal. Some members felt it is terribly large,” said Eagle Town Planner Tom Boni. “This whole project is something quite different for the Western Slope and the some of the commission members felt it is not in keeping with the character of the town.”
Ultimately, Boni said the commission opted not to force the size issue and to leave that decision to the town board. Additional conditions suggested by the commission for the special use permit request included requiring a major development permit for the proposal and a requirement that Rocky Mountain Pure comply with all state licensing regulations. The town of Eagle does not have its own licensing procedures for retail marijuana, but instead requires applicants to comply with the state procedures.
The Eagle Town Board is slated to conduct its first retail pot special use permit review next week when the community’s existing medical marijuana dispensary, Sweet Leaf Pioneer, presents plans for a retail sales. In conjunction with the retail operation, Sweet Leaf is proposing a new cultivation facility along Marmot Lane.
This comparatively modest proposal prompted a letter from the attorney for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which recently opened a training facility along Chambers Avenue. Attorney John. T. DeCarlo voiced the organization’s strong opposition to the Sweet Leaf cultivation facility saying “it raises serious safety and environmental issues for young trainees who will be utilizing the training center.”
While Eagle has specifically limited retail marijuana operations, cultivation operations and medical marijuana dispensaries to two such operations each until the time the community’s population reaches 10,000, an interesting mix of proposals has emerged.
Sweet Leaf Pioneer has proposed both continuation of its medical marijuana operation and the retail and cultivation expansion. The Rocky Mountain Pure proposal includes retail and cultivation. A third proposal was also presented to the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission this week from Kim Barbieri for the New Hope Wellness Center. Barbieri operates the New Hope center currently located at Edwards.
The New Hope proposal in Eagle is for a medical marijuana and cultivation operation. The planning commission tabled action on the proposal until Feb. 4.
Colorado governor praises marijuana banking announcementJanuary 24, 2014 —
Gov. praises pot banking announcement
DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is responding with relief to word from federal officials that marijuana businesses will be allowed to access banking services.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Obama administration is planning to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.
Hickenlooper’s spokesman released a statement Friday morning saying the news is welcome. Spokesman Eric Brown says Colorado hopes the guidance is specific.
Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges.
Because of the threat of criminal prosecution, financial institutions often refuse to let marijuana-related businesses open accounts.
Fraser, Colorado approves recreational marijuana storesJanuary 24, 2014 —
FRASER — Grand County residents could soon see the first recreational pot store open its doors in Fraser.
Fraser town trustees passed an emergency ordinance allowing for existing medical marijuana businesses to submit an application to open recreational marijuana stores.
Fraser is currently the only town in Grand County that has a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, Serene Wellness Fraser, the owner of which, Dan Volpe, indicated he would attempt to make the medical marijuana dispensary a recreational marijuana store.
Serene Wellness Fraser
Volpe said he would “most-likely” make the store a recreational pot shop, though is undecided whether he would keep a portion of the shop dedicated to medical marijuana or transition the store to a strictly recreational marijuana shop.
Under state law, a store can be operated as both a medical marijuana dispensary as well as a recreational marijuana store, so long as the two operations are physically separated.
To separate the two, shop owners would need to build a wall, though Volpe’s shop already has two rooms that are separated by a wall.
Volpe said he feels a responsibility to his longtime medical marijuana customers who have helped keep him afloat since opening the store in April of last year, though he would also like to take advantage of the ability to sell his product to anyone older than 21.
Volpe already operates one recreational marijuana facility in Empire, Serene Wellness Empire, which he has indicated has seen a large increase in business since making the transition from a medical marijuana dispensary to a recreational shop.
As part of the legalization of recreational marijuana sales, the state imposed a 90-day period where only existing medical marijuana dispensaries could apply for and transition to a recreational marijuana shop.
If Volpe were to transition the store to a recreational marijuana facility, he would have to attain license from both the Town of Fraser as well as the state.
Fraser trustees passed the emergency ordinance during their regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 22, with 5 yes votes and one no vote. Trustee Cheri Sanders was the dissenting vote, citing concerns about the required distance pot shops need from childcare facilities as well as concerns about the unchartered territory of recreational marijuana sales.
“I’m going to probably vote no on anything we have in front of us tonight, I don’t care how it reads, I don’t feel comfortable with it,” Sanders said. “I’m interested in continuing the moratorium, and then I can vote the way that I feel when I have gotten enough information.”
The board attempted to address the required distance a recreational marijuana shop could be located from a childcare facility by increasing the required distance to 500 feet from the originally proposed 200 feet.
The board chose to pass an emergency ordinance before the town’s moratorium on applications for recreational marijuana stores expired on Thursday, Jan. 23.
The board also discussed the requirement for stores to be located at least 500 feet from each other and decided to reduce that amount to 200 feet in order to provide a level playing field for any other potential pot businesses.
Trustee Vesta Shapiro discussed concerns with over-regulating recreational marijuana stores, which could potentially leave them vulnerable to being legislated out of existence.
“I get tired of people not listening to the voters,” Shapiro said. “Lets make the regulations reasonable and not put a stranglehold on a new industry just because it is new.”
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334