Eagle County voters may decide fate of pot shops
EAGLE, Colorado – Voters will probably get the chance this fall to determine whether the seven medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated Eagle County can stay in business.
After nearly three hours of public hearing, all three county commissioners said they supported putting the idea to voters. After the hearing, Commissioner Jon Stavney said that vote will likely come this fall, despite a plea from one dispensary owner to wait a year.
“Why don’t we wait and see what happens over the next 12 months,” Rocky Mountain High dispensary co-owner Michael Weisser said, adding that a campaign this fall could be costly for dispensary owners.
“It doesn’t do us any good to delay it,” Stavney said after the hearing. “Let’s find out now and move forward.”
While the commissioners are likely to create a ballot question for this fall, they also said they don’t want to put anyone out of business prematurely. To avoid that, they asked the county attorney’s office to look into some form of temporary license the existing dispensaries can submit to state officials.
The state will issue licenses starting next year, as part of the provisions of House Bill 1284, which created new regulations for dispensaries. Those new regulations give counties fairly broad powers to regulate at the local level, up to and including outright bans.
The dispensary owners lobbied hard against an outright ban, arguing that the new state regulations will address problems including people who get medical marijuana cards for less-than-legitimate reasons.
“I know people who have cards for ‘chronic pain,’ and they don’t have any more pain than I do,” Commissioner Peter Runyon said.
Dispensary owner Bryan Swanton said the new state laws will make it much harder for someone to see a doctor for a few moments and walk away with a recommendation for a medical marijuana card. Those new laws require a patient to have a “legitimate” relationship with a doctor that includes review of medical records.
Eagle County School District Director of Student Services Mike Gass listened to the dispensary owners speak before expressing worries he and other school district officials have about medical marijuana in the valley.
Gass said he’d learned a lot, but said medical marijuana makes his job more complicated. Teachers and district officials have started to see teens attempting to re-sell marijuana from their parents’ legitimate supply. He also said there’s been at least one case of a young student eating some marijuana left on a kitchen table.
“The dispensaries are well-intentioned,” Gass said. “But I haven’t heard anything today about the educational piece I think we need.”
Dispensary owner Kim Barbieri said her shop is committed to patient education, and asked other dispensaries to do the same. And the new state law will apply some licensing fees to education programs.
After the hearing, Barbieri said she’s nervous about a vote this fall, but said she believed she got a fair hearing from the commissioners.
“I think they’re willing to make the right decision for the community,” she said.
Stephanie Murri, who works at the Treeline dispensary in Eagle-Vail, said she isn’t afraid of an election.
“It’s extra work I’m willing to take on,” Murri said. “I saw a lot of support today.”