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Marijuana sales and production laws in Colorado  

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A Gilpin County Perspective

marijuana_gibsonBy Roger Baker

With the Colorado legislature in session, our Commissioners, elected officials and department directors always keep one eye on prospective bills that might affect us, even as they go about their roles conducting the normal business of Gilpin County.

And in Colorado, not surprisingly, a great deal of the legislators’ time and energy will be spent in reviewing, revising and reforming the laws governing marijuana sales and production in the state.

Some of these laws, as should be expected, will greatly affect Gilpin County.

Even though we have (now) just two small retail outlets in the County, we are all aware that there are a great many growing operations, mostly in homes in residential areas. Though we expect that most of these are legal, given the language regarding the number of plants that may be grown by individuals serving as caretakers for several patients, they can still cause issues in our neighborhoods.

The explosion of a home in Chalet Park where hash oil was being produced just reinforces the need for some sort of oversight of marijuana operations in the County, so the Commissioners are working with the Sheriff’s Office and our Community Development Department to see what options are available now, both in terms of law enforcement and zoning or land use limitations.

Frankly, the financial implications that are the subject of many bills down at the statehouse are of fairly limited concern to us, though they will certainly bear watching.

For example, HB 15-1007, introduced by Representative Singer, would allow (upon voter approval) counties and municipalities to levy additional sales tax on retail marijuana operations, much like the state does, while Senate Bill 15-040 does much the same thing, but it’s limited to counties.

More interestingly, HB 15-1090, would create a program much like the gaming impact grant program with which we have had so many difficulties already. The bill would use some of the state’s marijuana taxes to set up a fund to which counties could apply, regardless of whether it has chosen to allow retail sales or growing operations.

Those funds could be used for law enforcement to “manage the costs of increased arrests, increased traffic violations, and other law enforcement activities” associated with legal marijuana use, as well as for youth education programs, assistance to child welfare and other programs, and other perceived negative impacts to counties.

But for law enforcement, knowing what can and cannot be prosecuted (funding aside) is a difficult prospect. So two of our Sheriff’s Office investigators attended (along with 500 or so of their colleagues) a major three-day conference in Lone Tree in mid-January.

There they heard from Drug Enforcement Agency representatives, US Attorney John Walsh, and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, among others, discussing what can and cannot be enforced under current Colorado law and the Constitutional limitations of Amendment 64.

It was a ruling from AG Suthers recently that allowed our local District Attorney to charge the inhabitant of the Chalet Park home, for example, with “Processing and Manufacturing of Marijuana or Marijuana Concentrate” and “Possession of a Controlled Substance,” when for a time it looked as though all the suspect could be charged with was cruelty to animals (a dog killed in the explosion).

Then there is the question of whether such activities, or any large-scale marijuana growing operations at all, should be allowed in residential areas. The marijuana entrepreneur recently interviewed on televisions “60 Minutes” (as was Governor Hickenlooper) spoke of her growing operations as “industrial agriculture.”

Well, we have industrial zoning, and agricultural zoning, but both are distinct from residential zoning. So should grow operations be prohibited in residential areas, even if legal? The Commissioners will start this discussion with a work session this coming Tuesday (Feb. 3) at 9 here at the Courthouse.

Nobody ever said this was going to be easy…

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