Eagle County edges toward retail marijuana regulations
The Eagle County Planning Commission approved the land use regulations for retail marijuana in a 5-1 vote Oct. 2 after three hours of consideration that included emotional arguments from citizens.
Planning Commissioner Brian Bevan voted against approval.
The draft regulations stipulate where retail marijuana businesses may be permitted to open in unincorporated Eagle County. Four medical marijuana businesses are already open i the county.
The Eagle County Board of Commissioners will consider the proposed land use rules and wether to allow retail marijuana at all on Oct. 29.
“The commissioners don’t want your recommendation wether to allow retail marijuana or not – that is their decision to make – they only want your recommendation on the land use recommendations,” Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu told the planning commission. “You are to proceed on the assumption that retail marijuana will be allowed.”
For the most part, the proposed retail marijuana regulations are almost exactly the same as the rules already in place for medical pot businesses, such as a 200-foot buffer from school zones and residential areas. The main aspect of the regulations that came to deeper consideration was the matter of cultivation. Peter Tramm, a medical marijuana dispensary owner in Edwards, raised the issue.
“We’re farmers – we belong in an agricultural setting,” he said. “When we have to confine our grow operation to a warehouse with heat lamps and ventilation systems, we don’t have the opportunity to produce a ‘green’ renewable crop.”
By “green” he meant a more environmentally friendly practice that doesn’t require as much energy.
“Xcel Energy asked me to be on its advisory board because I use so much energy,” Tramm said. “If I could grow my crop outside like a normal farmer, I wouldn’t be using near as much.”
Security is a primary reason why cultivation facilities have been confined to industrial warehouses, ensuring the crop is in an enclosed space. Tramm argued it’s more dangerous to have such a crop growing in industrial areas.
“It’s a traffic equation,” he said. “If you’re in an urban area and have a thousand people going by a warehouse everyday, I guarantee they all know that a grow operation is there by the smell. There’s no way to completely hide it. On the other hand, if the crop is out in the middle of nowhere, maybe only 40 people know about it, and it’s not like they’re going to be able to run off with a 10-foot hemp plant. Plus there would likely be ranch dogs and neighbors who would hear the noise. It’s sort of on the scale of stealing cattle. How many cattle rustlers to you hear about nowadays?”
The planning commissioners essentially agreed with Tramm and made changes to the proposed regulations that would allow cultivation operations to be allowed through special use permits.
Buffer zones were the other source of long conversation.
Treu said the state regulations set the buffers at 1,000 feet.
“Eagle County is so confined that 1,000 feet would be a de facto ban,” he said. “Even 500 feet is a challenge, so the buffer was set at 200 feet for medical marijuana businesses.”
He added that the land uses could be amended for each area in question, which came down to Eagle-Vail, Edwards and Dotsero. The Wolcott area now falls under a planned unit development, which has its own regulations. There are currently three medical pot businesses in Edwards and one in Eagle-Vail. There were potentially two small areas in Dotsero that could be considered for such an operation but the planning board voted to remove one as a possibility because it was too close to the new boat ramp on the Colorado River.
“There are tourists and outfitters that would be going by there and that worries me,” said Planning Commissioner Patricia Hammon.
Upon closer examination, the board said that zone is technically already ruled out because of other regulations but they agreed to specifically remove it from the map to avoid any future confusion.
Hammon and two other board members also voted to remove one of the small areas in Edwards, a spot near the Interstate 70 interchange.
“It would be visible from I-70, residences are across the street and a walkway might be going in somewhere near there and 3,000 children would pass by everyday on their way to school,” Hammon said.
Since the vote was tied, 3-3, regarding that issue, the board directed county staff to make a special note of the matter for the commissioners to consider Oct. 29.
Bevan voiced concerns about how the 200-foot buffer might affect Eagle-Vail.
“I don’t want Eagle-Vail to become a solid strip of pot shops,” he said, pointing out the long, narrow outline of the outlined zone.
Treu suggested that a cap could be placed on the number of retail pot businesses in a community.
Social clubs in which people pay a membership fee to meet at a location and use marijuana were also discussed. Treu recommended a special use permit system for that type of business, effectively leaving it up to discretion on a case-by-case basis.
“If you don’t address social clubs in there in some way they’re going to pop up,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Greg Moffet agreed.
“If we have a special use permit process set up we don’t need to ban it because the burden is on the person proposing the business,” he said.
Of the citizens who commented at the meeting, four people – a pastor, two (conventional) business operators and a concerned citizen – were opposed to the retail marijuana rules in some way. One of the business owners said the smell and proximity of marijuana operations were a burden to his business but otherwise he supported Amendment 64.
The pastor and Edwards resident Buddy Sims were opposed to retail marijuana on health and moral grounds.
“Added to this new mix will be millions of tourists in both summer and winter who we have come to depend upon to keep this valley in business,” Sims said. “Vail and Beaver Creek will be the destination spot for anyone who wants to have a vacation where retail marijuana is sold. There is just no place in this valley for pot-smoking tourists. There are currently 1,071 medical marijuana permit holders in the county and that is enough on our county roads and ski slopes. Think of the impact this will have on the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships – thousands of people from the press will be here. The sports reporters will surely cover recreational marijuana as legal in Colorado. We do not need this type of pot advertising.”
Sims added that pot is legal but there aren’t very many legal places to use it. He said foreign tourists might leave with a negative impression of the area if they are busted for consuming something they thought was completely legal.
Tramm agreed that the area will become a destination for tourists interested in marijuana but he argued that will be a good thing.
“This is going to be a boon,” he said. “People are going to change their vacation plans. If you’re a well-employed person who enjoys marijuana and now you can take a ski vacation to Vail and buy it legally for the first time, I don’t think you’re going to Salt Lake or Winter Park anymore.”
When the planning commission passed the regulations, several members noted it was not an easy vote for them but they felt a duty to comply with the will of the voters.
“It passed 2 to 1 among the voters here in Eagle County and I have to honor that,” said Planning Commissioner Scott Conklin.
“I’m not necessarily in favor of retail marijuana but we need to follow the wishes of the voters and at least this way we have some say,” Hammon said.
The arctic blast we saw at the end of October was just a tease. After a warmish, dry start to November, there isn’t much relief in sight.