Pot ban likely in county’s future

La Plata County appears to be headed toward a temporary ban on all recreational marijuana facilities until the end of 2014. In a work session Tuesday, commissioners supported moving ahead with crafting an ordinance that would temporarily ban recreational marijuana cultivation facilities, retail stores, product manufacturing facilities and tasting facilities in the county.

Counties across the state are in the midst of deciding how to regulate recreational marijuana businesses after voters passed Amendment 64 in November, legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana as well as the retail sale of pot.

Local governments have the option of creating their own licensing process and land-use regulations for recreational marijuana businesses on top of the state licensing process.

Currently, about one-third of counties have decided to prohibit recreational pot sales and cultivation while eight counties, including Boulder, Pueblo and Eagle counties, will allow those activities, according to a map distributed by Colorado Counties Inc.

La Plata County is among the one-third of counties still in limbo on recreational marijuana regulations.

Commissioners agreed a ban would allow the county more time to explore the potential effects of these businesses and to craft appropriate land-use and licensing regulations.

Potential environmental effects such as chemical disposal, for example, would need to be addressed, said Butch Knowlton, director of the county’s building department and its Office of Emergency Management.

Commissioner Julie Westendorff also wants the county to examine the costs to issue licenses and how that would be passed on to businesses.

Local licensing would allow the county to take code enforcement into its own hands, said Marianna Spishock, a county code-enforcement officer.

“It gives us local control,” Spishock said. “(Enforcement agents) are off in Denver. That is the way it’s been with medical marijuana, and I expect it to be the same with recreational marijuana because they’re not hiring a whole lot more staff.”

The ordinance process required to enact a ban includes public hearings that would allow residents to comment on the issue, as well.

The county currently allows medical marijuana grow operations and manufacturing of marijuana-infused products, but it prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries. But County Commissioner Bobby Lieb said he didn’t see the logic behind banning medical marijuana sales in the county.

“We sell gasoline, we sell liquor, we sell pizza all out in the county; why can’t you sell dope?” he said.

If commissioners enact a temporary ban, they would need to do so before October, which is when certain businesses can apply for a state recreational marijuana license. All recreational marijuana businesses need state and local approval before they can begin operations.

Commissioners discussed the issue of regulating recreational marijuana in February but wanted to delay further action until legislators passed laws regulating recreational marijuana this spring and the state Department of Revenue enacted its own rules July 1.

Four medical marijuana cultivation facilities currently are permitted in the county.

ecowan@durangoherald.com