HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS —In addressing retail recreational marijuana policy, county commissioners face a quandary: how to appease federal and state laws, while also representing the voice of their constituents.
Grand County residents showed strong support for Amendment 64. About 59 percent voted in favor and about 41 percent voted against the measure, which amends the state constitution to allow personal use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. It also allows for commercial sale and cultivation of cannabis, similar to regulations for alcohol. Marijuana possession and cultivation remain illegal on the federal level.
County commissioners discussed their options for dealing with the new state legislation during a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6.
“I know it’s a curious conundrum with regard to the county commissioners,” said County Attorney Jack DiCola. “You have taken an oath to uphold the federal and state laws.”
If commissioners allow retail recreational cannabis stores, the county would create zoning and licensing schemes for retailers and share in a piece of the sales-tax pie. Allowing facilities would also put the county at odds with federal law.
Commissioners’ second option is to ban recreational retailers in unincorporated county areas. This alternative allows the county to comply with both state and federal law. Residents will still be allowed to grow and possess limited quantities of cannabis in accordance with state law, but the county won’t participate or receive any revenue from sales. Banning recreational retail, however, also puts the commissioners at odds with the county’s popular vote.
A third and less feasible option would be for commissioners to ignore the legislation and do nothing. This puts them at odds with state law, which requires counties to appoint a specified individual to deal with retail facility applications.
Commissioners and town boards must all make a decision by Oct. 1.
Commissioners’ decisions will only affect unincorporated Grand County, including Tabernash and Parshall.
Several health and juvenile services representatives spoke against the measure during the Aug. 6 meeting.
“The sheer public health, mental health and addiction issues that will come out of this are so significant that a moratorium should be passed,” said Jen Fanning with Grand County Rural Health Network, presenting a letter against the measure signed by several major health care providers in the area.
If they don’t ban retail facilities, Fanning said commissioners should consider passing additional taxes to “clean up the messes made” from having accessible recreational marijuana.
“Grand County levels are already higher than state average when it comes to access to marijuana,” said Katie Gibson of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, speaking about youth access. “By legalizing it and by this board saying they’re going to allow it in Grand County, it makes a big statement to youth, saying ‘wow, if our leaders think it’s OK, it must be OK.”
But DiCola pointed out that the board’s decision was applicable only to residents over 21, like alcohol, and a discussion of health impacts on youth was beyond the scope of the discussion. Commissioner Merrit Linke also spoke on the importance of keeping focused on the extent of the measure.
“We’ve heard all these emotional arguments, but to keep it in perspective, we’re only talking about retail establishments and recreational marijuana,” Linke said. “It’s around and it’s going to be around.”
Commissioner Gary Bumgarner also took the public comments against retail facilities into account, but drew comparisons with regulating alcohol and the failure of 1920s prohibition laws.
“I don’t think there’s a black-and-white answer, you can’t legislate morality,” Bumgarner said.
With all the opposing arguments, commissioners also wondered why there was no public comment representing the majority of voters who supported recreational cannabis.
A final decision will be made on Tuesday, Sept. 17. Commissioners will begin discussing the measure and listening to public comment at 10:45 a.m. Residents of unincorporated Grand County are encouraged to attend and voice their opinions or concerns.