Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content County will adopt permanent marijuana regulations in March

DEBBIE KELLEY Updated: December 8, 2010 at 12:00 am

El Paso County’s temporary land use regulations for medical marijuana businesses will remain in place until March 1, when a new licensing policy and modified zoning regulations will take effect, assistant county attorney Lori Seago said Wednesday.

County commissioners in June extended the temporary regulations for “at least six months,” which would be this month, or until the board approves “a local regulatory and/or licensing program, which may include associated land development code amendments,” according to the resolution approving the extension.

The local medical marijuana industry has mushroomed in the past 18 months. Leaders of Colorado cities and counties have the authority to regulate medical marijuana businesses, but they’ve been constrained by state regulations, which are still being created around new laws the General Assembly passed earlier this year.

El Paso County became one of the first local jurisdictions to adopt temporary zoning regulations, on Dec. 17, 2009. Those expired in June, and the new clauses were added with the extension.

In August, commissioners decided to let voters decide whether to ban medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county. The idea was that voters would have a clear idea of what the regulatory alternative to a ban would look like, Seago said.

The date of March 1 was chosen for permanent regulations, she said, because the county cannot begin licensing medical marijuana facilities until the state adopts its regulations.

“It was our best guess as to when that might occur,” Seago said.

The Department of Revenue  in January will begin proposing regulations on everything from labeling and packaging to video surveillance monitoring and transit to the state licensing authority, Matt Cook, senior director of enforcement for the Colorado Department of Revenue, said last week while in Colorado Springs. Those regulations could be enacted as early as March 1 and as late as July 1, he said.

Current county rules include a required temporary use approval from the Development Services Department; limits on where a medical marijuana business can be located, including a 500-foot buffer from certain buildings such as schools; proof of a sales tax license; limits on hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and signage requirements.

Under the permanent rules, businesses also will have to obtain a license to operate from the county, along with compliance with state licensing laws.

“It will be similar to liquor licensing,” Seago said.

Commissioners have not yet set fees for county licenses for medical marijuana businesses, she said.

Commissioners also could adopt additional or different rules to comply with new state regulations.

El Paso Commission Vice Chair Amy Lathen said the county’s temporary regulations were written to be fairly comprehensive.

“With a few possible adjustments, I believe they are a good foundation,” she said,

adding that she expects the board to make some revisions in upcoming months.
“We must be cognizant of the differences which still exist on this issue and mindful that no mandate was established by the outcome of the election,” Lathen said.

The ballot question asking voters to ban medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated El Paso County failed by less than half a percent in the Nov. 2 election.

A lawsuit filed by industry proponents prior to the election, claiming the ballot issue was illegal, remains in litigation, Seago said, despite voter rejection of the proposed ban.

IN COLORADO SPRINGS

The Colorado Springs City Council will discuss stricter zoning regulations for medical marijuana-related businesses, as recommended by the city’s Planning Commission, at its informal Dec. 13 meeting. City Council could vote on the proposed changes on first reading Dec. 14.

The Planning Commission recommended a 1,000-foot buffer zone between dispensaries and schools, preschools, colleges, universities, residential child care facilities and drug and/or alcohol treatment centers, which could include places where Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held. There currently are no restrictions on where medical marijuana-type businesses can operate within city limits. An industry advocate says more than 100 dispensaries could be affected.

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