La Plata County to consider changes to marijuana licensing codes

Growers, retailers share mixed views

An employee arranges glass display containers of marijuana on shelves at a retail and medical cannabis dispensary in Boulder on Aug. 11, 2016. La Plata County commissioners are expected to vote this week on revisions to marijuana licensing codes that will streamline the process for cultivators in the business. Enlargephoto

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press file

An employee arranges glass display containers of marijuana on shelves at a retail and medical cannabis dispensary in Boulder on Aug. 11, 2016. La Plata County commissioners are expected to vote this week on revisions to marijuana licensing codes that will streamline the process for cultivators in the business.

La Plata County commissioners are expected to vote this week on proposed revisions to marijuana licensing codes that will reduce staff time and streamline the process for cultivators in the business.

The county has worked for months to come up with revisions to better align local regulations with state requirements.

Suggestions include: eliminating mandatory fingerprint requirements for renewal applications; allowing certain modifications to be made to a business without an approval process; flexibility to correct minor code violations without enforcement action; and transferring decision-making authority from an appointed board to county commissioners.

“It’s been an evolving conversation,” said county spokeswoman Megan Graham. “The county established our regulations (in 2014) knowing they’d need revision down the road because it’s a new industry and figuring it out is a work in progress. I think we’ve balanced the needs of the stakeholders and met requests to eliminate redundancy while maintaining public safety and welfare.”

Six cultivation facilities and one infused-product facility, where marijuana is not grown but rather processed into other products, have county licenses, and another grow operation will soon be built.

Proposed changes would apply to licenses for retailers and medical marijuana businesses. When suggested revisions were rolled out last month, growers and retailers were supportive of some and said they would be encumbered by others.

Since then, the county has massaged the proposal to consider some of the public feedback, mainly creating more flexibility for aspects of business operations that aren’t issues of public safety.

For example, licensed operators would no longer need to go through an approval process or give a 30-day notice to the county each time they paint a wall in their facility or move a piece of equipment, which are stipulations of existing policy.

Not only would relaxation of what necessitates an approval process relieve cultivators, it would reduce staff time, and consequently taxpayer money, spent processing those requests, Graham said.

Advance notice for some actions, such as changing pesticides to maintain plant health, is difficult and sometimes impossible, growers said.

“Pests can destroy a multimillion-dollar crop in days,” Scott Holland, an eight-year businessman in the marijuana industry, told county staff in a January public meeting. “Really what I’m asking: Let us do business like any industry does. We understand that marijuana is a new thing. We get heavy regulation from the state. Don’t choke us out; treat marijuana like alcohol. Don’t regulate us any more than you would Ska Brewing or Steamworks.”

Stakeholders were supportive of the dissolution of the Marijuana Licensing Authority, arguing that commissioners would consider applicants as their constituents and the industry’s economic success in their decision-making.

Nick Borst is a partner with Durango Cannabis Co., a cultivation facility under construction near Grandview that will grow cannabis flowers for the recreational market.

Located in the county but within the city of Durango’s annexation zone, Borst said the facility is going through a joint application process and plans to open by July.

Borst said he’s happy that some costly glitches could be cut from the code. If revisions are approved, the county will be able to grant conditional cultivation licenses, which would allow an applicant’s licensing process to advance in a timely manner at the state level.

“The state has a deadline to complete the application process once you start,” Borst said. “If you don’t get your county license and land-use permits in time, you have to reapply with the state, and that is expensive for this business.”

jpace@durangoherald.com

Budtender Miles Claybourne sorts strains of marijuana for sale into glass containers at The Station, a retail and medical cannabis dispensary in Boulder, on Aug. 11, 2016. Revisions to marijuana codes in La Plata County could be approved this week by commissioners. Enlargephoto

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press file

Budtender Miles Claybourne sorts strains of marijuana for sale into glass containers at The Station, a retail and medical cannabis dispensary in Boulder, on Aug. 11, 2016. Revisions to marijuana codes in La Plata County could be approved this week by commissioners.