The headline of the April 29 release is ominous.
“Pueblo County dismantles marijuana policy while nobody watches.”
As is all that follows, at least for those who operate cannabis businesses in the county.
“Pueblo County commissioners have spent much of their time during the COVID-19 crisis attempting to dismantle marijuana policies to stop all new cultivation licensing and eliminate any potential for existing businesses to expand,” notes the release.
Attached to the statement, for further contact, are the names of Jordan Embree (Ascend Cannabis) and Rob Ganger (Smile High Farms).
The subject of the communique is Resolution 20-110, passed by the commissioners during an April 7 meeting.
The resolution amends chapter 5.12 of the county’s code involving the regulation of licensed liquor and marijuana establishments in an attempt “to correct loopholes around the marijuana moratorium currently in place,” according to a joint statement issued by the commissioners.
As the marijuana industry grows and evolves, the commissioners said it is important for the county “to look at regulations and clean up those guidelines which sometimes provide loopholes in the code.
“We also look very closely at the needs and desires in the industry as compared to the needs, desires and wishes of the public.”
As such, Resolution 20-110 is aimed at refining and simplifying the county’s marijuana code in an attempt “to better balance the marijuana industry with the sometimes competing interests of residents who are close or nearby those expansion premises.”
In the Embree and Ganger statement, the allegation is raised that the commissioners continue to “attack legal marijuana business in Pueblo. The COVID-19 crisis has allowed politicians to accomplish what prohibition groups haven’t been able to accomplish under normal circumstances with the public watching.“
Contrarily, the commissioners maintain that the resolution does nothing to “curtail, hurt, stop, or inhibit any current business or plans in the queue.“
In 2019, St. Charles Mesa couple Brad and Michelle Lisac came forward with the claim that the odor from a nearby cultivation operation was causing their two small children to become ill.
The couple campaigned to see a 253-foot buffer zone regulation changed so that 1,000 feet would be placed between a residence and a cultivation facility.
Speaking with Denver’s Westword magazine, Commissioner Terry Hart said the “inspiration” for Resolution 20-110 came from those who live nearby outdoor marijuana farms and complained about the odor.
“The goal (of the resolution) is to make sure there is consistency, fairness, and a clear understanding among those in the marijuana business and the residents who live in proximity to those businesses,” reads the commissioners statement.
“The code as it stands now is very complex with a lot of work=arounds. The purpose of the resolution, as amended, is to balance the needs of the industry with the neighbors when anyone in the industry has a desire to expand their operations.”
Here is an overview of the resolution’s main directives:
Change of Licensed Location: No change of licensed location application for a medical marijuana center license or retail marijuana store license operating at the same location shall be received, accepted or approved unless the application is to relocate both licenses to a new single location.
In addition, no change of licensed location application for a medical marijuana optional premises cultivation or a retail marijuana cultivation facility operating at the same location shall be received, accepted or approved unless application is to relocate both to a new single location.
Unlawful Acts: It is unlawful for any person to consume or to permit consumption of marijuana on any licensed premises.
Restrictions on new stores and centers: Until Jan. 1, 2021, the local licensing authority shall not receive or accept applications for a new retail marijuana store or medical marijuana store.
A person who is operating in good standing a licensed medical marijuana center in Pueblo County may apply for a retail marijuana store license for operation in the same licensed premises.
In addition, a person who is operating in good standing a licensed retail marijuana store may apply for a medical marijuana center license for operation in the same licensed premises.
Restrictions on New Cultivations: Until Jan. 1, 2021, the local licensing authority shall not receive or accept applications for either a new retail marijuana cultivation facility or a new medical marijuana optional premises cultivation facility: except that a person who is operating in good standing under a medical marijuana optional premises cultivation facility license may apply for a retail marijuana cultivation facility for operation in the same licensed premises.
Restriction on Expansion of Licensed Premises: Until Jan. 1, 2021, no application for modification of any premises of any retail marijuana cultivation facility, retail marijuana store, medical marijuana optional premises cultivation facility, or medical marijuana center shall shall be accepted, received or approved if such application would expand the total area of licensed premises.
In his statement, Embree said the resolution comes while his company undergoes construction to expand the operating facility.
“It took years to engineer, let alone secure proper financing, etc. for this expansion,” he said. “We have been advised by licensing that although the modification of premise was ’conditionally’ approved, it is not ‘approved’ until the building is constructed and inspected.
“And the resolution will prohibit us from ever receiving the final approval. Obviously, we are in the middle of construction so that is simply not possible.”
Embree also questioned the timing of the resolution.
“I am stunned with the way this was approached on a political level. In the middle of political and societal chaos, our local government is passing measures that are extremely restrictive to an industry that has significantly and positively contributed to this community.
“They did not properly notify anyone or actively seek public comment.”