Vail Valley officials watching state on pot laws
Ryan Summerlin December 25, 2012
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Colorado voters in November turned the state into a “smoke ’em if you got ’em” zone when they passed a constitutional amendment legalizing the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. But what if you don’t have any pot?
The amendment requires the state legislature to create a regulatory system to establish retail outlets for pot. But don’t expect a rush to open stores, at least in Eagle County. Local governments, which would ultimately license those shops, seem willing to wait to see just what the state will do. Some of that hesitation stems from recent experience with medical marijuana dispensaries.
While state voters legalized pot for medical use in 2000, the industry didn’t take off until 2009, when officials at the U.S. Department of Justice indicated they would essentially ease up on enforcing federal law regarding dispensaries.
That degree led to a short-lived boom in the dispensary business, which left state and local governments scrambling to find ways to control it.
State law finally created a licensing system, which allowed local governments to ban the business altogether. Most Eagle County towns have enacted bans, including Vail, Avon and Gypsum. Eagle has just one dispensary – which required a special election to keep open – and Minturn is still working on regulations for dispensaries.
The remaining businesses operate in unincorporated Eagle County, which created its own tight set of rules, which primarily use land use regulations to mandate where dispensaries can and can’t operate.
Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu believes something similar will happen with retail operations, and doesn’t anticipate expanding the areas where marijuana-related businesses will be able to operated.
But, Treu said, he plans to advise his bosses – the Eagle County commissioners – to wait for the state to create its regulations before enacting any of its own. Until then, it’s likely Eagle County may impose a temporary ban on retail shops.
Local governments can impose outright bans on retail businesses – something Douglas County, on the south end of the Denver metropolitan area, has already done. Treu noted that voters here approved Amendment 64 by almost exactly a 2 to 1 margin.
While county officials are likely to wait for the state before writing regulations, Treu said work is already being done to revise some of the county’s existing ordinances to reflect the fact that personal, private, consumption and possession of marijuana is now legal.
One such change will be the wording of the county’s drug-testing policy. While Amendment 64 allows employers to hire and fire people based on drug tests, the actual rules refer to “illegal” substances. Since pot’s now legal, the employee handbook needs to reflect that fact.
Treu said the county’s rules and regulations also need to state that pot still isn’t allowed on county property. That’s probably going to include the county’s affordable housing complexes, which will probably be done by language in leases to tenants.
While the county’s lawyers are working on their program, a couple of local towns have barely started the conversations about how to deal with the new amendment, waiting to see just what happens at the state level before taking definite action of their own.
“It’s important we not get ahead of ourselves,” Avon Mayor Rich Carroll said. “We need to see how this plays out.”
Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell said his town board is taking a similar approach, but said he doesn’t expect the town to expand its current regulations, which currently limit the town to one dispensary for every 10,000 residents.
But, Powell said, the town may have to look at some of its building codes, to see what effect two or three people who are each growing their allowed number of plants may have on a home’s ability to handle the load on the circuits.
“We don’t want to have any electrical fires,” Powell said.