EAGLE — As state legislation for regulating retail marijuana enters the final rounds, Colorado counties may opt out of allowing those businesses altogether.
Eagle County commissioners recently opted to stay on the county’s current course and allow the retail marijuana businesses.
Eagle County attorney Bryan Treu told commissioners they have until Oct. 1 to opt out or designate a licensing entity.
“We could instill a permanent or temporary ban, or decide to put a moratorium on it and hold off a year if the state doesn’t look like it’s going to have its regulations in order,” he said. “The county also has the option to defer to whatever regulations the state sets, set our own local standards, or go by what the state decides and tweak it a little bit, which is what the staff recommends.”
Commissioners directed staff members to revise the county’s current zoning for medical marijuana to allow for recreational stores.
“We will be bringing back a detailed licensing program for commissioner review once we see the final versions of the pending state bills,” Treu said. “We’ll know what comes out of the state legislature probably by early summer, so commissioner review of county regulations is likely to happen early this fall, before Oct. 1.”
The county already has medical marijuana businesses, which are likely to be the first retail marijuana businesses. The current state legislation, HB 13-1317, proposes that for the first 60 days that licensing is granted, only medical marijuana businesses may apply.
Treu said the idea behind that is to keep things slightly easier in the beginning.
“The state is expecting a flood of applications,” he said. “By limiting the first RMJ licenses to medical marijuana businesses that are already permitted and operating it will make it easier to get started.”
There are four types of retail marijuana licenses in the bill — for retail stores, cultivators, manufacturing and testing.
“No one is quite sure exactly what a ‘marijuana testing facility’ would be — we’re the first in the world to do this,” Treu said.
The intention of testing facilities would be to control the potency and help with labeling, similar to alcohol percentages listed on bottles of alcohol.
One of the proposed state regs the county is likely to override is a requirement that retail marijuana and medical marijuana customers use separate entrances if a business sells both retail and medical marijuana.
“I don’t know why the legislature wanted RMJ and MMJ customers separate, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Treu said. “Our staff recommendation is to simply remove the distinction and recognize it as a ‘marijuana business’ in general.”
Eagle County Director of Public Health Jennifer Ludwig encouraged the commissioners to be cautious about embracing retail marijuana.
“There are a lot of long-term public health concerns in general with the state passing this,” she said. “There is already a culture of acceptance in our valley (regarding marijuana). How do we change that social norm if we allow these businesses?”
Treu said almost 20 states currently allow medical marijuana, including Washington, D.C., and he expects a few more states will legalize retail marijuana in the near future even though the drug is still considered illegal by federal law.
“At some point, (federal legislators) are going to have to deal with marijuana, but I don’t think it’s going to happen this legislative session,” he said.
“I went to school in Boulder and I still can’t believe I’m practicing law and talking about marijuana,” he joked.