Dispensaries could get more latitude
EAGLE, Colorado – By this time next year, it may be a bit easier to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle County. But don’t expect an explosion.
There are five dispensaries now operating in the county – and a few more in the county’s towns. Voters in both Eagle County and Minturn voted Nov. 2 to keep those dispensaries open. The problem, at least in the county, is that county regulations enacted last year have so limited where a dispensary can operate that none of the existing businesses could open today in their current locations . The current businesses are allowed to stay open because they opened before the county regulations were passed.
In the wake of the November vote, the Eagle County commissioners are trying to walk a fine line between allowing dispensaries to operate legally and not encouraging much, if any, growth in the number of shops now open. County planners are now working to walk that fine line. In a Tuesday work session, county planning director Bob Naracci showed the commissioners a variety of maps that showed where dispensaries are now allowed, and where they might be able to open with a few adjustments.
There are a lot of potential changes to the regulations, but two drew much of the discussion Tuesday.
One possible change would be reducing the distance a dispensary must be from homes, churches, schools and similar facilities. The current distance is 500 feet. According to Naracci’s maps, cutting that boundary down to 200 feet would open a bit more of the county’s commercial property. Allowing dispensaries to operate closer to apartments in commercial areas would free up more space.
County Attorney Bryan Treu said opening up more of the county to medical marijuana shops is important to the current dispensary owners.
“They say if their landlords ask them to leave, they have no place to go,” Treu said. “If they have to move, we want to be sure they can remain open.”
While county officials talked about lessening the boundaries, local attorney Rohn Robbins asked why the boundaries are necessary at all.
“What’s the magic in the number of feet from things?” Robbins asked. “If this was miles from things in the age of the horse and buggy, I’d understand. But if you want to get whatever you want to get, 5 feet or 200 doesn’t make a difference.”
Robbins recommended that the county simply open up various commercial areas for dispensaries, then let the industry handle the rest.
While Robbins, who represents a dispensary, was the only member of the public to speak at Tuesday’s work session, any new regulations the county passes will go through more such informal sessions, as well as public hearings, before the commissioners vote.
“There were a lot of people who voted against this,” Commissioner Sara Fisher said. “I want to hear from them. We need to get as much information as we can.”
Commissioner Jon Stavney said he supports finding ways to keep the dispensaries open, since most voters said that’s what they wanted.
“But what we’re looking for is a belt-loosening,” on the regulations, Stavney said.
The county has until the middle of next year to nail down its new regulations, since it will have to issue licenses to dispensaries so those businesses can apply for newly required state licenses.
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