Questions arise: Who should inspect La Plata County marijuana facilities?

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 8:17 PM
John Lynch, owner of KinFolk Farms, checks out his crop earlier this year in La Plata County. County officials are considering hiring a contractor to conduct health inspections at marijuana facilities throughout the county, but they’re seeking more public comment before making a decision.

La Plata County may have to find a contractor to conduct health inspections on marijuana facilities.

When marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014, San Juan Basin Public Health took the lead in performing annual health inspections at those facilities, Assistant La Plata County Attorney Kathleen Lyons said Wednesday.

However, about a year-and-a-half ago, Lyons said San Juan Basin Public Health became concerned about its ability and authority to conduct those inspections, and ceased doing so.

Lyons and the health department is not currently interested in entering an intergovernmental agreement to carry out those inspections, leaving the county with two options: find a contractor or do away with health inspections.

“I’m uncomfortable leaving that door open,” said La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff. “The last thing we need is someone getting mortally sick on tainted edibles.”

San Juan Basin Public Health has said that since products such as edibles are not considered a food, the local health agency doesn’t have regulatory authority in their production.

Instead, the health department says the safety of the products for public consumption is regulated at the state level and enforced by the Marijuana Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue.

However, La Plata County Code Enforcement Officer Marianna Spishock said the Marijuana Enforcement Division does not regularly come down and conduct inspections. She said the expectation is for those activities to happen at the local level.

Brian Devine, water-quality program manager, said the health department’s board of directors has requested a list of unmet needs in environmental health. Depending on that list, the health agency may be open to taking the lead.

“Under the current circumstances, if we want any kind of health inspection to occur in the short term, we best line up someone on a contract basis to do it,” Westendorff said.

It’s unclear how much a contractor would cost to perform inspections. The cost may have to be offset by adding additional fees to marijuana licensing, Spishock said.

Ultimately, county commissioners put off a final decision to seek more public input.

Commissioners tabled two other marijuana issues Wednesday to seek additional public comment, including one regarding the amount of plants an individual can have and the specifics setback requirements for marijuana facilities.

The Colorado Legislature this year passed new guidelines that says an individual residence can have no more than 12 recreational marijuana plants, unless a local jurisdiction makes specific regulations that says it can have more.

And, new state laws say medical marijuana growers can have up to 24 new plants. However, local jurisdictions have the right to lower that number.

Commissioners also discussed at length the particulars of a setback requirement for marijuana facilities next to certain buildings, such as schools or rehab centers.

Final decisions on all these matters were pushed back to a date not yet announced. County officials said they would contact interested stakeholders in the ensuing weeks.