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La Plata County denies license for marijuana dispensary

Owners failed criminal, civil background review
La Plata County’s Marijuana Licensing Authority denied a license for Border Buds, a proposed dispensary near the Colorado-New Mexico border, on Tuesday.

Border Buds, the proposed dispensary on the Colorado-New Mexico border, lost its bid for a La Plata County marijuana business license Tuesday.

The county’s Marijuana Licensing Authority, made up of the county’s three county commissioners, rejected the dispensary’s license application for a marijuana license after hearing county staff members’ concerns about the owners’ past compliance with the law.

“I tend to lean toward a preponderance of evidence. It’s not any one thing; it’s a whole series of brushes and misunderstandings,” said Clyde Church, county commissioner, in a meeting Tuesday. “It’s not personal. I have a concern.”

Border Buds was applying to be a retail marijuana store at 1929 U.S. Highway 550, about 2 miles north of the New Mexico border.

The owners, Joseph Calandra and Joseph Wojcik, received a state marijuana license, and in December, La Plata County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the land-use permit for the dispensary.

But during a routine application review, county staff members found issues in the backgrounds of both Border Buds owners. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division had also shared concerns about the applicants, according to staff.

Staff members said the owners didn’t meet the county’s requirements for criminal history, disclosure and “good moral character,” which is defined in the county code. Things that can jeopardize an applicant’s “good moral character” include inconsistency in information, civil lawsuits that indicate a lack of respect for legal obligations and violations of marijuana enforcement rules.

Both Calandra and Wojcik contested the county’s assessment.

Wojcik, a licensed electrician, was involved in a civil action filed by the U.S. Attorney for the sale of counterfeit films and products on online platforms, like eBay. The government seized about $359,000 from his PayPal accounts. Wojcik said he was unaware the products were counterfeit.

“I did my due diligence. That’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t (criminally) charged because they knew that I did,” Wojcik said. “I wasn’t just buying crap and selling it.”

In 2018, Calandra obtained plants for his marijuana cultivation facility from an unapproved source and entered into a settlement to destroy the plants and pay a $30,000 fine.

Calandra said the issue came down to incorrect information given by a plant tracking company and a lack of response from the Marijuana Enforcement Division about where to get plants.

The county also said Calandra did not disclose traffic incidents in 2003 and 2006, such as driving with a suspended license, when he was a minor in Illinois. He had a civil case for about $2,500 in unpaid taxes.

Calandra emphasized he paid the taxes immediately and he didn’t know the traffic incidents were on his record. In two years going through the county’s approval process, it never came up.

“I’m not sure where this is coming from,” Calandra said. “I’ve broken a couple of rules by accident, but I was never trying to deceive anyone.”

Both owners said they have always prioritized behaving morally.

“I’ve never had my character attacked like that,” Calandra said. “The last few days have been really painful.”

After hearing from county staff members and the owners, county commissioners unanimously agreed the owners did not meet local requirements.

“I want to acknowledge this is probably not a very easy day for you. We are not here to judge these individuals as to whether they are good people or not,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, county commissioner. “I agree with the staff that they have not met the burden, and I agree with the finding to deny the application.”

Church said the land-use approval stands and the owners can still operate another type of business. Or, Border Buds can continue if the ownership changes in some way.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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