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El Paso County just says no to medical marijuana testing businesses

April 13, 2017 Updated: April 13, 2017 at 10:46 pm
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photo - Medical marijuana plants grow at Rocky Mountain Miracles Friday, April 4, 2014.(The Gazette file)
Medical marijuana plants grow at Rocky Mountain Miracles Friday, April 4, 2014.(The Gazette file) 

A relatively new sector of the medical marijuana industry - labs that test the drug for potency and contaminants - will be welcome in Colorado Springs, but not in unincorporated El Paso County.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve amendments to the county's existing medical marijuana policy, including one that would prohibit testing facilities.

The City Council passed a measure on March 28 that will allow for up to three medical marijuana testing facilities within Colorado Springs, said City Clerk Sarah Johnson.

Last May, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed off on a law that created testing requirements for medical marijuana.

Under the new law, testing must assure that the product's level of potency of psychoactive compound THC is consistent with what its label indicates. The facilities may also analyze products for "microbial and residual solvents" and "chemical and biological contaminants" that could pose health risks, the statute states.

The city's new policy will take effect when the moratorium on medical marijuana businesses expires on May 25. Once it's lifted, Colorado Springs will not be issuing any new licenses for medical marijuana businesses, Johnson said.

The city has not yet heard from anyone who is interested in applying to open a testing facility in Colorado Springs, but its working marijuana group - which includes local officials and representatives from dispensaries - recommended that the City Council okay allowing testing facilities, seeing it as a "good business measure" for the city's existing medical marijuana industry, she said.

County commissioners did not share the sentiment.

"I just think there are enough of those (testing facilities) across the state that we didn't need to have to engage in that regulatory environment here," said Commissioner Mark Waller, a vocal opponent of Colorado's marijuana industry while in the state Legislature from 2009-14.

At least five other counties in Colorado - Alamosa, Boulder, Grand, La Plata and Clear Creek - have opted to license medical marijuana testing facilities, said Senior Assistant County Attorney Lori Seago. Municipalities, too - including Denver and Aurora - have chosen to allow the labs.

The amendment to the county's policy also stated the county will not license medical marijuana transporters, defined by statute as a person or entity authorized to transport medical marijuana products "from one medical marijuana establishment to another."

The state Marijuana Enforcement Division began accepting applications for medical and recreational marijuana transporters earlier this year but has not yet received any, said Robert Goulding, a spokesman for the division.

The city has yet to consider whether it will license medical marijuana transporters, although the marijuana working group is slated to discuss the issue, the city clerk said.

Tuesday marked the sixth time the county's medical marijuana policy was amended since it took effect in June 2011. Another amendment requires that the Sheriff's Office inspect a medical marijuana center before its county license can be renewed. Most other changes were tweaks designed to bring the local policy in line with new state laws.

"This is going to be the most significant issue that we deal with in the local government for the next decade," said Waller. "It's never been done anywhere before, and it's going to take time to make sure we get this right, time to balance the constitutional requirements with the public safety needs of the community."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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