In a meeting that lasted only 19 minutes on Tuesday, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners approved the first reading of the proposed new ordinance that would govern marijuana businesses, both medical and retail, in the unincorporated portions of Archuleta County.
Before adopted, the ordinance must pass a second reading by the board, with that public hearing scheduled for the June 17 regular meeting, to be held at 1:30 p.m. If approved at that time, the ordinance would go into effect on July 1.
The commissioners received a copy of the proposed ordinance prior to Tuesday morning’s hearing in order to review it, and previously held a work session to solicit public input on the matter, making Tuesday’s meeting short.
Regardless, county attorney Todd Starr, who participated in Tuesday’s public hearing via phone, explained the changes to the document that were made following the work session in which comment was taken from the public.
Those changes include:
• Eliminating the allowance of optional grow facilities;
• Allowing businesses to maintain up to $500 worth of merchandise in a refrigerator (previously all merchandise was ordered to be kept in a safe affixed to the floor at all times);
• Stating that applications for businesses can be received beginning July 1 (the proposed date for the ordinance to be effective);
• Amended dates relating to the adoption of the ordinance and lifting of the moratorium on retail marijuana businesses currently in place (the moratorium will be lifted the day the ordinance goes into effect, if approved); and
• Removed the section determining the fees for licensing, with that portion to appear in the county’s fee schedule.
Following Starr’s explanation of the changes, the meeting was opened to public comment in favor of the ordinance.
The first to speak, George Daniels, stated that he was not completely for the ordinance, but liked the provision dictating the distance of marijuana facilities from churches (1,000 feet), stating, “God’s house is holy; it should be treated with reverence.”
Daniels, representing the Pagosa Baptist Church, continued, saying he was completely opposed to the sale of marijuana and holds the belief that Jesus came to save sinners and the church wants to see people delivered from the bondages of drugs and alcohol.
If you are truly saved, Daniels continued, there is no need for mind-altering drugs, but that he appreciated the fact that the county is protecting churches under the ordinance.
The next to speak in favor of the proposed ordinance was Bill Delany, who owns one of the county’s existing medical marijuana facilities.
Delany began by stating that being in the medical marijuana industry for four years, he did not see the marijuana industry as a threat, adding that marijuana has helped “a tremendous amount of people.”
Delany said he fields calls on a daily basis from people asking if marijuana is now available to the general public, noting that the people calling are respectable. Too, Delany noted that he is Christian.
Following Delany, another of Archuleta County’s medical marijuana business owners, Jeremy Bonin, spoke, simply commending the commissioners and staff for an “excellent job” on the regulations, which he stated protect the community while giving people the right to partake in marijuana.
The last to speak in favor of the ordinance was Muriel Eason.
Eason echoed Bonin’s sentiments about the good job done by the county in crafting the regulations, stating the move is potentially a wonderful thing for economic development in the community.
Expanding on that thought, Eason noted that Archuleta County was different, with many communities allowing the businesses to locate in strip malls, while Archuleta County is allowing marijuana businesses in places not as desirable for other industries.
However, Eason criticized not allowing optional grow facilities, stating it would be a “huge opportunity.”
Too, Eason suggested that the local industry could create a non-GMO, FDA-certified organic strain of marijuana that could be locally branded and allow for higher profit margins, if the FDA certified marijuana as organic (the FDA does not oversee marijuana or deem it organic since it is considered a schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substance Act).
No one spoke in opposition to the county’s proposed ordinance at the meeting.
Following public comment, BoCC Chair Clifford Lucero accepted a motion from Michael Whiting approving the ordinance on first reading, then entertained comments from the commissioners, beginning with Steve Wadley.
“I just want to stay this is … one of the most difficult decisions, issues that has faced me in my tenure as a commissioner,” Wadley said, adding there are a lot of factors to be conflicted about.
“In a county where (Mitt) Romney would be president, Amendment 64 passed overwhelmingly,” Wadley continued, stating he wanted to represent the voters and what they voted for while ensuring a quality of life for those opposed.
Wadley then spoke of the fact that the board was able to work out a solution with area churches that contacted the board with concerns and came up with “the best solution we can come up with.”
Whiting was next. After thanking those involved with drafting the ordinance and those in the community who voiced their concerns, Whiting said, “I think we’ve, and I say we’ve, done an excellent job.”
Whiting continued, noting that the only portion of the proposed ordinance he disagreed with was banning option grow facilities because he hated to leave money at the table, especially since the board had just spent time discussing the need for more taxes (see related story).
Whiting finished his comments by stating he was proud of the BoCC’s work and the result, which carries out the will of the voters.
The last to speak, Lucero first noted that he would not have voted in favor of the ordinance had Amendment 64 not passed in Archuleta County — something he admitted his party (Democrats) would not necessarily agree with him on.
Lucero then stated he was glad the county took its time to draft the ordinance, giving credit to the staff and committee that worked on the ordinance.
“I have some issues with optional grow and still will,” Lucero said, stating the county was not capable of policing optional grow facilities.
The proposed ordinance is available in its entirety on the Archuleta County website, www.ArchuletaCounty.org.
Also on Tuesday, the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners approved marijuana in that county.
The decision came through a new land-use code approved during that BoCC’s planning meeting and licensing rules approved at a subsequent business meeting, thus allowing both medical and recreational marijuana. The La Plata County land-use code is effective immediately, while the licensing rules will kick into effect July 12.