Colorado Marijuana News
VAIL — The Vail Town Council Tuesday again extended a temporary ban on retail marijuana sales in town. But the days may be numbered for the temporary ban.
Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve on first reading an ordinance extending the ban for another 60 days. The council will probably give final approval to the ordinance at its July 7 meeting.Learn more »
Most Coloradans probably know that 4-20 — April 20 — has become the day for celebrating marijuana. Although the origin is still debated, four-twenty is probably the most popular numeric reference to pot. Rocky Mountain PBS I-News has compiled a list of less well-known figures, a paint by the numbers picture of cannabis in Colorado.
1. 71 percentLearn more »
VAIL — As more recreational marijuana dispensaries opened up in the area, some authorities and residents thought the problem of public smoking would become an increasingly visible problem. Instead, according to police and resort records, incidents of public consumption have not shown any significant increase over last year.
In Vail, the town has strict rules against using marijuana in public areas, and use is prohibited on the ski resorts, which is on federal U.S. Forest Service land. So far, there are no retail recreational marijuana stores in Vail, which has put a temporary moratorium on the businesses since retail shops became legal.Learn more »
A last-ditch effort by the Granby Board of Trustees to stop a marijuana business from opening in an unincorporated enclave could lead to a legal showdown.
The board will consider an emergency ordinance to annex a property that lies within an enclave on U.S. Highway 40 near Middle Park Medical Center-Granby at its Dec. 9 meeting.Learn more »
It looks like Fraser is going to get a little greener this winter.
The town’s board of trustees unanimously approved a license for a new retail marijuana store in Fraser at its Thursday, Dec. 4, meeting.Learn more »
It looks like Fraser is going to get a little greener this winter.
The town’s board of trustees unanimously approved a license for a new retail marijuana store in Fraser at its Thursday, Dec. 4, meeting.Learn more »
On Tuesday residents of Hot Sulphur Springs affirmed their support for the existing ban on marijuana-related facilities in the town.
Folks in Hot Sulphur Springs were presented with six ballot measures on the ballot exclusively in their community.Learn more »
EAGLE-VAIL — Can marijuana revitalize Eagle-Vail’s commercial district? Whatever the answer ultimately is, the marijuana business is growing — and bringing more people to — a stretch of U.S. Highway 6 some are already calling the “Green Mile.”
By Nov. 8, there will be three medical and three recreational marijuana businesses in the mile or so east of the stoplight at U.S. Highway 6 and Eagle Road. Two of the medical businesses have been in the valley since about 2009. The recreational businesses have all opened just this year.Learn more »
GYPSUM – Just because pot is legal in Colorado does not mean you can grow it on someone else’s land.
In the last week, illegal growers walked away from 3,630 marijuana plants worth as much as $8.3 million in marijuana, 1,000 in Eagle County near Cottonwood Pass south of Gypsum, and 2,630 plants near Ruedi Reservoir in Pitkin County.Learn more »
EAGLE COUNTY — The Vail Valley’s second retail marijuana shop opens Monday. There will be more in the coming months.
Eagle’s Sweet Leaf Pioneer has been open since spring, and another shop is planned. While every other town in the valley has either banned or delayed licensing for new retail shops, a number of shops are planned for Edwards and Eagle-Vail, both in unincorporated Eagle County.Learn more »
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 takes moves to ban retail marijuanaApril 28, 2014 —
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.
The amendment also gave towns and counties the authority to either approve or deny retail sales. Eagle County and the town of Eagle are currently the only local jurisdictions that have approved retail sales and grow operations. Like Vail, Avon had enacted a moratorium on applications for retail and grow licenses in town. But, facing a June 1 deadline to either extend the moratorium or enact a ban, Avon’s council chose a ban.
Contacted after the meeting, council member Chris Evans said he doesn’t believe voting for the ban on sales violates the will of town voters.
Use in town is still allowed, Evans said. In addition, there are few locations in town where zoning might allow a shop, Evans said.
What Evans didn’t say is that there will almost certainly be two or more retail operations in Eagle-Vail in the near future.
Both Evans and Mayor Rich Carroll said they voted for the ban at least in part because of the image town officials are trying to create for the town.
Carroll said the town is working to be a complement to Beaver Creek, as well as a place that families want to visit and live in.
“I don’t think retail (marijuana sales) enhance that goal,” Carroll said.
Second reading of the ordinance — which would grant final approval — is set for May 6.
Eagle-Vail dispensary to get first marijuana vending machineApril 28, 2014 —
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.
Nearly 200 people turned out at a recent invitation-only event at Montana’s Smokehouse in Avon to see how the machine worked. The machine had no marijuana products in it at the time — that couldn’t happen in a place with a liquor license, Honan said — but people could see how the thing will work once it’s at Herbal Elements.
Honan said it was well-received by potential customers. And he hopes those customers will find it more convenient to use when Herbal Elements gets all its required state permits and permissions and has the thing up and operating in the next few weeks.
When it is running, Honan said he expects the machine to help his business a few ways.
First, the ZaZZZ machine provides a secure way to store items. Honan said it will help state officials with the “seed to store” tracking system. Items will also be harder to steal since the machine weighs roughly 1,000 pounds when it’s fully loaded.
The machine will also free up display space. Honan said the machine can display about 80 items in the space where 20 items now sit.
Finally, the machine can provide a more efficient way to serve clients.
Honan said new clients require a lot of time and attention to guide them through the range of medical marijuana products. A client who knows what he or she wants can come in, get an ID check in person, then another at the machine, buy the desired products and leave.
Shearin, the chief operating officer of Tranzbyte, the company that makes the ZaZZZ machine, said the company had talked to a number of dispensary operators before deciding on Herbal Elements as the first host for its machine.
“(Honan) was the first guy to really understand what we’re trying to do,” Shearin said.
The goal, both Honan and Shearin say, is to further normalize the marijuana business. Shearin equated using the ZaZZZ machine to self-checkout areas at grocery or home-improvement stores. And, he added, the ZaZZZ machine will be a good way to make more edible products available. That’s another area Tranzbyte is working in, Shearin said.
“We really see edibles as where the market is going,” Shearin said. “We think most people want that in the future.”
While the ZaZZZ machines will go to medical dispensaries initially — Shearin said Tranzbyte already has numerous orders — Honan sees an opportunity for the machine to have an effect on the recreational marijuana business, too. There could be a day when a dual operation such as the one envisioned for Herbal Elements has a machine for medical products in one half of the operation and a machine for recreational products in another part.
“It really helps in taking out human error,” Honan said.
“The machine is really spurring conversation,” Shearin said. “Let’s get people talking about what (the marijuana business) means.”
Tabernash resident floats ideas for marijuana co-opApril 24, 2014 —
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.”
Kuglitsch has a vision to make Colorado’s marijuana known beyond its pot shops. She’s working to form a cannabis cooperative, or co-op, that obtains licenses to grow, process and sell both marijuana and hemp products. That budding, self-sustaining business model could also be used to draw tourists to Grand County through cannabis-based agritourism.
“Agritourism, cooperation among growers, community involvement and economic development are attainable goals,” she said.
Kuglitsch said she has around 10 members from across the county so far, but she hopes to grow that number to 100 by the end of the summer. Once she secures enough founding members, Kuglitsch said the co-op will begin working on a for-profit business plan.
She expects much of that profit to come from cannabis tourists to the county. Kuglitsch pointed out that many people already visit the state because of its legalized marijuana, pointing to the recent 4/20 celebrations as an example.
“Many people travel to Colorado to openly use cannabis and to explore the healthy and rugged lifestyle,” Kuglitsch said. “We want to show (cannabis) is a productive aspect of our economy, beyond just pot shops.”
According to the Colorado Tourism Office, one of its major initiatives is to “raise awareness and appreciation for Colorado’s heritage tourism assets.” It partnered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture in 2012 to help promote the state’s agricultural roots through “agritourism,” which includes public relations campaigns, research and advertising. Agritourism initiatives have helped connect visitors to the state’s many farms, ranches, wine-makers, Christmas tree sellers and farmers markets.
Because Amendment 64 and marijuana legalization were such landmark events for Colorado, Kuglitsch said cannabis cultivation represents an important part of the state’s cultural heritage as well. It’s not a stretch in her mind to bring it under the Colorado agritourism effort.
“I think we have to be realistic and say cannabis is now part of our economy and part of our culture,” she said. “Hopefully we can use it to bring an element of hemp, co-op farming and industry to our county to generate jobs and profit for farmers.”
The Colorado Department of Agriculture regulates the industrial hemp program, but that’s about as close as its come to associating with any form of cannabis so far. Marijuana-based agritourism has yet to be a seriously floated concept.
“I can’t say that I’ve heard of this before, as it relates to marijuana,” said the department’s Deputy Commissioner, Ron Carleton. “I’m not terribly surprised. There seems to be a lot of new things going on now that Amendment 64 is being implemented.”
Before the Department of Agriculture or Office of Tourism will tango with a cannabis-based tourism industry, it’s likely Kuglitsch’s co-op with have to go through the state’s Department of Revenue first. That department is charged with regulating retail marijuana operations.
“That would be the starting point, quite frankly,” Carleton said. “(We’d) refer them to revenue first and see where it goes from there.”
County residents looking to get involved in Kuglitsch’s cannabis co-op can contact her through her business and tourism promotion website, www.OnAPM.com.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
Colorado advances edible marijuana restrictionsApril 18, 2014 —
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.
“They’re hard to find, they’re hard to identify, and they’re hard to locate,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, one of the sponsors of the bill, which would prohibit edibles that mimic other foods or candies.
The bill would direct the state Department of Revenue to adopt rules requiring that marijuana edibles be clearly marked or designed to show that they contain pot. The House gave initial OK to the bill Thursday on an unrecorded voice vote. A final vote is expected next week before the Senate takes it up.
Some marijuana activists worry that the bill as written could mean that nothing that looks like food could be infused with marijuana, essentially banning any type of edible pot.
Dan Anglin, a managing partner of edible-maker EdiPure, told lawmakers that he and other companies are giving adults what they want.
“Sweet treats is what people want. Nobody’s infusing steak,” he said.
He said the child-resistant packaging that is already required works. And he noted that without its packaging, some alcohol products also can be confused for non-alcoholic drinks.
Last week during a hearing, McNulty showed lawmakers a tray with various sweets, some containing marijuana and some not, and he asked his colleagues if they could tell the difference. On Thursday, Anglin responded with his own presentation, showing lawmakers several clear plastic bottles with liquids.
“Do you think this is apple juice? This is hard apple juice. That’s liquor at 17 percent. How about this?” he asked. “This is root beer that has alcohol in it. This is lemonade with alcohol in it. Which one of these is water? Can you tell?”
But supporters of the bill say it’s a needed measure to keep pot away from children, now that marijuana is more available since legal recreational sales began in January for those 21 and older.
Smart Colorado, an advocacy group that lobbies to limit youth marijuana use, spoke in support of the bill. Rachel O’Bryan, one of the founding members of the group, told lawmakers that she hopes the bill protects her son so he “can safely accept an offer of a rainbow belt, or a Swedish fish, wherever he may be — at school, at the park, at a friend’s house or even a party.”
Police: Student ate more pot than recommendedApril 18, 2014 —
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.
The reports say a clerk told his friends to cut it into six pieces and eat one piece at a time. The friends did so, but it’s unclear from the reports whether Pongi heard the advice.
Pongi’s friends told investigators he began speaking erratically in French and pulling things off walls. Authorities say he then jumped to his death.
An autopsy report from the March 11 incident lists marijuana intoxication as a significant contributing factor in the death.
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
Summit County sheriff's marijuana FAQ hits the streetMarch 25, 2014 —
Last week, the Summit County Commission and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office released information to help residents and visitors better understand requirements related to the use, purchase and possession of marijuana in unincorporated Summit County since the passage of Amendment 64.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor attended the commission’s most recent workshop on Tuesday, March 18, where he presented a draft document containing frequently asked questions about marijuana. Minor asked the commissioners to sign off on the draft, saying the FAQs would serve as the office’s cornerstone document regarding public use of marijuana.
“Colorado is essentially the first state to fully legalize marijuana, so we’re in uncharted waters here,” Minor said. “For our residents and visitors who choose to use marijuana, this new policy helps clarify the ways in which they may do so lawfully in the unincorporated areas of Summit County.”
According to information in the FAQs and Colorado state law, marijuana use is prohibited in public spaces. Locally, public spaces are defined as public lands, such as U.S. Forest Service; grounds and outdoor areas, such as public ways, streets, sidewalks, alleys, parking lots and playgrounds; common areas of buildings usually open to the general public; and any other outdoor areas open to the general public.
Consumption of marijuana is permissible in private locations, provided that it is not prohibited by the property owner. Visitors are encouraged to contact their hotel or rental agency to confirm the applicable policy for marijuana use on the premises.
On Nov. 6, 2012, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana. Amendment 64 also authorized the retail sale of marijuana through a statutory permitting process.
Several permitted medical marijuana locations in Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne have already finished the retail permitting process and have been selling retail marijuana to the public since the beginning of 2014. Summit County has had regulations in place since 2013 regarding the home-growing of medical and recreational marijuana.
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.