La Plata grapples over pot growers
Durango-area medical marijuana growers are keen to expand to grow recreational marijuana as soon as state and county regulations allow.
La Plata County's commercial cultivators anticipate a strong market for marijuana at retail as soon as it becomes legal on Jan. 1, 2014.
"I think a lot of us are anticipating expanding," said Jonny Radding, co-owner of Durango Organics, a Hesperus grower. "We're going to have to, to meet the need."
The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners held a work session Monday, Sept. 30, to discuss how to handle medical marijuana growers who also want to raise recreational marijuana, now allowed under Amendment 64.
County staff members recommended commissioners adopt local licensing authority. That would give a three-person licensing board the authority to yank a grower's license. Otherwise, county officials would have to wait for state regulators to act.
County staff members also recommended implementing minimal regulations to convert medical marijuana growers to recreational cultivation. The regulations are intended to speed the conversion process, said county attorney Sheryl Rogers.
"We really have tried to come up with the most expeditious process possible for the conversion aspect of it," she said.
La Plata County Commissioner Bobby Lieb has raised questions about whether county licensing is desirable. If commissioners choose not to adopt local licensing authority, the state would be left to regulate local growers.
County staff members and commissioners Julie Westendorff and Gwen Lachelt have voiced support for county licensing, saying it gives the county authority to make sure growers are acting lawfully.
"Fortunately, we haven't had to do any enforcement," said Rogers. "The day that we have to do enforcement, we'll be glad we have that licensing."
In August, commissioners voted to ban recreational marijuana through Dec. 31, 2014. But the ban doesn't have to last that long.
One local resident voiced concern about growers' water usage. Byron Pickett, who lives on Meadow View Road east of Durango, said a nearby grow operation has reduced the water table, forcing some neighbors to haul water.
"We live in a water-critical area," Pickett said.
Pickett urged the commissioners to consider water availability before approving more grow operations.
Marijuana advocate "Rasta Stevie" Smith urged the county to look to San Miguel County and other Colorado jurisdictions for guidance. Rogers said county attorneys are aware of those examples.
Lieb prevented Smith from giving a second round of comments later in the meeting. Smith stormed out of an August meeting, and Lieb warned Smith on Monday he was on a "short leash" because of his prior behavior.
Smith told Lieb at Monday's work session that his actions at the August meeting were an effective political tactic.
Next in La Plata County's marijuana process, commissioners will host a public forum Oct. 23. Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to adopt regulations for retail marijuana growers in January or February.