Coffee and conversation with the Commissioners
By Patty Unruh
County Commissioners Buddy Schmaltz (District 1), Linda Isenhart (District 2), and Gail Watson (District 3) heard from local citizens concerned about a new ordinance that will impact marijuana sales and production in Gilpin County. The discussion took place on February 26 at the Gilpin Community Center during the Commissioners’ regular informal coffee get-together with the public. Ten souls disregarded the snowy roads and icy temps to voice their opinions.
The Commissioners are putting together a new ordinance “with teeth in it” to oversee marijuana operations in the County. They are working with the Sheriff’s Office and the Community Development Department to see what options are available now, both in terms of law enforcement and zoning or land use limitations.
All cities and counties in Colorado are going through the same process right now. Although the marijuana industry is already legal in Colorado, many of the controlling precedents still are undefined, and the state legislature is working on those issues now. A bill has been introduced which would allow counties to levy an additional sales tax on retail marijuana operations.
Gilpin County is in a “wait and see” mode until the state adopts more solid guidelines and presently has a moratorium on accepting applications for new marijuana dispensaries. Gilpin County currently has two small dispensaries.
Schmaltz cautioned, “We don’t want to make rules and then get taken to court.” He also said that regulating the industry could be costly, and that the county doesn’t want to spend more in regulating than it would take in in income.
Watson agreed. “The marijuana industry is looking to set a precedent. We can’t afford litigation.” The Commissioners noted that if the County was sued, department cuts would follow.
“It’s been suggested that we tone down the language of the ordinance,” Isenhart added, “that we don’t make it so restrictive that marijuana can’t be used for pleasure or for medical purposes.” She said new grow operations would be welcomed, but said the big operations should be removed from residential areas. “Put them in by Taggert’s, Rollinsville, and Tolland Road.”
A “substantial number” of complaints have come in to the Sheriff’s Office about strong marijuana odors in residential neighborhoods; however, odor is not a probable cause to check to see whether illegal activity is going on. Resident Kevin Walsh noted that the Sheriff’s Office is finding people in compliance with the law when they do investigate.
“Gilpin is run by complaints,” Schmaltz responded. “If someone complains, then we go out and do something. If the operation is legitimate, we don’t care. If someone is doing an illegal operation, we’re concerned. Given the nature of the business, there is some bending of the rules.”
“Most medical grows are in compliance,” Watson said. But she commented that black market operations were a problem. For example, there are rental properties where numerous people are coming and going and a landlord comes to find the house gutted and turned into a grow house.
Everyone also recalled the recent explosion of a home in Chalet Park where hash oil was being produced.
It was noted that businesses in Gilpin County don’t offer a decent wage, and that because people don’t make much money here, they will be more likely to take dangerous chances if taxation made marijuana more costly.
There are many growing operations in the county, mostly in homes in residential areas. The number of plants that may be grown by people who serve as caregivers for several patients is an issue.
One participant in the discussion was a medical marijuana caregiver. His customers have Crohn’s disease and other medical conditions and use juiced leaves; he advised that one plant per day was needed for treatment. “A caregiver can have up to 99 plants,” he reported. “There have to be four caregivers to be considered a commercial operation.” He was concerned about the possibility that the number of plants allowed would be further limited.
Gail Maxwell, who works in the Clerk & Recorder’s Office, said, “We need to know who’s growing.” She believed that marijuana growers could be taxed and the money used to help fund county needs, such as library or Road & Bridge department projects.
“You’re going to grow, so what are you willing to do to help the County? We need money, and you’re it.” She assured the marijuana growers, “None of us want to take your rights away. We just want to make it so everyone is compatible.”
Watson brought up Gilpin’s two main industries: casinos and county government. Several noted that marijuana as an industry could help Gilpin County diversify and bring in jobs and money. The assertion was made that marijuana is an agricultural industry and that in Denver, facilities provide many jobs.
However, Gilpin has limited commercial space. Watson noted that the county could potentially bring in about $90,000 in fees and taxes if all available commercial property was utilized. But she added, “Recreational marijuana is already heavily taxed. Medical is more restricted and cheaper. Taxation makes the black market more lucrative, and that’s what we’re probably seeing in the residential areas.”
Schmaltz said, “There’s not an opportunity right now for us to tax them. Our hands are tied.”
Watson brought up the need for water for the marijuana plants. She reminded residents that a domestic well was required to wash cars and water plants, questioning whether domestic wells would serve to water plants in grow operations. A suggestion was made to catch rain and snow water for the plants.
Maxwell then proposed using mine shafts as a source of water. “They are filled with water – not potable, but is it sellable? It could be used for agricultural purposes.” She said no one is able to answer how much water is in the mines.
Schmaltz replied that water in old mines is typically toxic. “And whose water is it? People downstream may have the water rights. But it’s an interesting concept.”
He summed up the discussion by thanking people for coming and engaging in a constructive dialogue. “We don’t want an environment where we create what’s illegal and dangerous. That’s what the ordinance is for. We want to maintain a safe community and quality of life here.”