Gunnison County moves closer to approving marijuana regulations
Written by Toni Todd   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014

$5,000 to start

If you’re an entrepreneur inclined to grow or produce marijuana products, your prospects for doing so moved a step closer this week in Gunnison County.


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On Tuesday, May 13, the Gunnison County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) reviewed and discussed draft regulations for marijuana operations in Gunnison County. The tentative date for the next discussion on the topic, which will include a public hearing, is in early July.
“We’re taking out the whole ‘for sale to the consumer’ part,” said Russell Forrest, assistant county manager of economic development and community development. The new regulations will govern cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities of marijuana.
In February, the board agreed to consider these operations as a package and instructed staff to create draft regulations as a combination of licensing and land use resolution (LUR) requirements.
The BOCC also agreed that the best location for such facilities would be one of the three industrial parks located throughout the county—Gold Basin, Riverland or Signal Peak—but wanted the regulations to also accommodate other locations if they meet compatible use standards, along with all other regulatory requirements.
The combination licensing/LUR framework is designed to make facilities unnoticeable by locating them, plain-wrapped in an industrial park or unincorporated area of Gunnison County; to make changes to the regulations easy in the event of unforeseen consequences and the quick need for modifications; to complement state land use and licensing procedures with a clear, streamline process of application; and to assess fees similar to Boulder County initially, with review every one to two years to ensure that county costs are covered.
One caveat to licensure in Gunnison County is that operators must hold a state license and acquire a valid county land use permit before a license in Gunnison County can take effect. Operating before all three have been acquired would amount to an illegal operation.
Operations that fit within the pre-ordained industrial parks and occupy an existing business will likely take a faster track to start-up, with only administrative review required before operations can begin.
People looking to establish bigger facilities, possibly in places other than an industrial park, will go through a few more steps toward approval, following the minor impact review process for the LUR.
On the surface, cultivation of marijuana seems like any farm crop; however, Colorado doesn’t see it that way.
“Is the state going to treat this as agriculture?” asked BOCC Commissioner Phil Chamberland.
Forrest explained that the state would extend neither property tax nor water rights exemptions for marijuana growing facilities, as it does for traditional farmers and ranchers. The county regulations tackle cultivation by considering it a combination agricultural and industrial operation, with a regulatory leaning toward defining it as industrial.
The assumption is that greenhouses or some sort of indoor growing facility will be required, with plenty of fertilizing, tending and harvesting, but also water, wastewater, general waste, utilities and other industrial considerations. Manufacture and testing are also viewed as industrial.
Obtaining a license for any of these operations will require a background check on the applicant (a means of determining honorable character); demonstration of land use harmonious with adjacent properties; homeowners’ association approval (if applicable); odor control; meeting code requirements for fire and security; and demonstration of access to adequate public services (water, sewer, etc.). Initial fees for permits, licenses and ongoing operation are close to $5,000.
Security, said Forrest, is still a concern. “Until the banking industry figures out a way [to handle these businesses], these [places] are targets,” he said.
“Can we build anything into licensing to create GCSAPP [Gunnison County Substance Abuse and Prevention Project]-type programs?” asked Chamberland.
“The short answer is no,” said Matthew Birnie, county manager. The county is not a home rule entity, he explained, and therefore has no authority to target a specific industry or designate a tax for a specific purpose. There’s also concern that taxing too much does nothing but keep the black market alive.
Gunnison resident Jason Roland has established Green Day Wellness LLC, a business he’d hoped would include a retail dispensary within the city limits of Gunnison. He is now considering cultivation instead. Roland said other government entities in the state are getting around the restrictions on tax designations by adding a fee rather than a tax, designated for substance abuse education and prevention. Forrest, Birnie and the commissioners in attendance, Jonathan Houck and Chamberland, seemed interested in looking into that prospect further.
“We’ve had a lot of input, not so much from the public yet, but from prospective business owners,” said Forrest. There are just three testing facilities in the state, he said, and two people have called inquiring about setting those up in Gunnison County. Several callers have also expressed interest in cultivation near Somerset, where the climate is more hospitable.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in spaces that are already out there,” said Roland, “especially buildings that are in disrepair.” He cited the old Rocky’s Gym as an example. “It’s falling apart.”
Chamberland suggested that it would be interesting to see how the neighbors near the old gym would feel about a marijuana operation moving in. Roland suggested neighbors might appreciate a discrete, marijuana business housed in a restored, secure building rather than a dilapidated structure that attracts mischief.
The issue will be back before the commissioners in about six weeks.