La Plata County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to impose a six-month moratorium on the development of land for
medical marijuana dispensaries and grow houses.
The moratorium was proposed after a spike in inquiries in recent months to the county's building and planning
departments about the requirements for such facilities.
Before the vote, Marianna Spishock, a code-enforcement officer for the county, said one inquiry came from a resident
looking to build a 5,000-square-foot grow house and another wanted to start a dispensary that would serve up to 200
There's quite an interest," she said.
The county also has received complaints about a couple of existing grow houses.
Matt Armstrong, assistant director of planning at the county, said regulations are needed for these facilities.
We believe it's important to have a clear process in place," he said.
Commissioners also heard testimony from law enforcement and from medical marijuana advocates.
Lt. Pat Downs, director of the Southwest Drug Task Force, said dispensaries and grow houses on the Front Range have
proved a popular target for thieves seeking marijuana or money.
He said one dispensary was broken into in Durango as well.
Another problem from grow houses is that they can produce mold and odor.
The odor from a marijuana grow house is substantial," he said.
Durango lawyer Stuart Prall said he focuses full time on legal issues related to medical marijuana and asked
commissioners not to impose the moratorium.
If you put a moratorium in place, you're just putting your head in the sand," he said.
He said concerns about the facilities are overblown.
There's so much hysteria with this issue that these shady stoners are going to make all this money, and that's not the
case," he said.
He worried that submitting growers to a public permit process could drive them underground.
Commissioner Kellie Hotter said the county's land-use code requires them to evaluate projects based on their
compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. Likewise, neighbors must have an opportunity to comment.
There's not going to be any assurances of anonymity," she said.
County resident Robert Joyce said he started a small growing operation to provide cannabis for his wife, who suffers
from a debilitating chronic condition that has caused her weight to drop as low as 85 pounds.
After trying every medication available through mainstream medicine, they turned to medical marijuana, which had
miraculous results and allowed her to eat normally.
I don't think she would be here right now if it weren't for medical cannabis," he said.
He said he was reluctant to speak publicly about their situation but worried the moratorium would force him to toss his
plants and pay significantly more to get her medical marijuana from a dispensary.
County officials said as long as the operation was not found to be a threat to health or safety it was unlikely to face
enforcement action during the moratorium.
Joyce said he was in favor of seeing medical marijuana taxed and regulated.
I would love to be able to pay taxes to the county," he said.
A bill is currently being considered by the state Legislature that would set rules for dispensaries and grow houses and
require them to be licensed and collect sales tax.
Commissioner Joelle Riddle sits on the state board of health, which has debated the definition of caregiver for the
purposes of supplying medical marijuana.
She said clear regulations would help both users of medical marijuana and the general public.
We need to make it safe on both sides of the fence," she said.
Commissioner Wally White noted that if the county finished its rules in fewer than six months, the moratorium could be
It's not like it's fixed in stone," he said.
The county plans to hold a work session on the topic in early April.