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RG County nixes retail marijuana sales

Posted: Friday, Mar 29th, 2013

AP photo Colorado lawmakers yanked and tugged at the threads of the state’s proposals for regulating recreational marijuana on Thursday.

DEL NORTE — With no one in the audience to contend, the Rio Grande County Commissioners (RGCC) on Wednesday approved an ordinance prohibiting marijuana cultivation and sales in unincorporated areas.

In line with the county’s ban on medial marijuana dispensaries approved in 2010, the adopted ordinance will enact Section 16 of Amendment 64, which Colorado voters approved last November to regulate the plant like alcohol.

Several county municipalities have also banned marijuana cultivation and retail sales since the general election.

Earlier this month, The Amendment 64 Task Force approved recommendations concerning pot sales in Colorado, according to reports. The Colorado Legislature will now review the 165-page report containing details of 58 policy recommendations, and, in the end, will make the final decision.

Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the Task Force in December with “finding practical and pragmatic solutions to the policy, legal and procedural issues” involved in moving forward with the state’s new constitutional amendment. Task Force Co-Chairs Jack Finlaw, the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel, and Barbara Brohl, the executive cirector of the Colorado Department of Revenue, announced the recommendations.

On Thursday, Colorado’s under-construction plan for regulating recreational marijuana nearly came unglued when lawmakers questioned whether the agency that would enforce the rules is up to the task.

The plan called for the state’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division — which regulates medical-marijuana businesses — to transition to the Marijuana Enforcement Division and be in charge of all pot enterprises in the state. But a scathing audit released this week cast doubt on the division’s fitness for handling the massive job. And it threw what was scheduled to be the final meeting of a legislative committee drafting a bill on recreational marijuana regulations into chaos.

The audit, released during an epic two-day meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, found the division rife with wasteful spending, shoddy enforcement and unfulfilled expectations. Systems that were supposed to track marijuana plants from seed to sale were incomplete. Measures that were supposed to prevent criminals from getting involved in the industry had failed.

That seemed to steady the teetering column, though the committee set a meeting for next Thursday for Brohl to explain. The committee then postponed several votes on the recreational marijuana regulatory structure until it can resolve its questions.

But, if the committee decides to abandon the plan to give medical-marijuana regulators authority over recreational pot, there are few other options, Pabon pointed out. Amendment 64, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana, says the Department of Revenue will enforce the rules.

The committee did take several votes on recreational marijuana rules. It approved one proposal that only Colorado residents be allowed to own pot shops and adopted several others that set up educational programs and safety standards for marijuana.

Pabon also announced that the committee, which had planned to finish its work by the end of March, would now have until April 8. If it finalizes the ideas for a bill then, the full state legislature will have exactly one month to pass the bill before the end of the session.

The panel agreed marijuana should be taxed more than cigarettes, but lower than alcohol, according to reports. The group also suggested decisions about when and where marijuana dispensaries can operate may ultimately end up with local governments.

Previously, the task force agreed that there should be no ban of sales to out-of-state residents, but suggested limiting how much non-residents could buy at any one time, according to reports. They also suggested requiring store license applicants to have lived in Colorado for two years.

Additional recommendations include:

• A special marijuana tax

• New training for law enforcement to detect impaired drivers

• Revising the Colorado Clean Air Act to include the impact of marijuana smoke.

• Restricting underage access.

For further information, an executive summary of the report is available in the Task Force Report along with background information on the establishment of the Task Force, listings of Task Force and Working Group members, the text of the amendment and a comprehensive listing of all issues considered by the Working Groups. Task Force members were appointed by the governor. Working Group members submitted applications to the Task Force Co-Chairs and were selected on the basis of their subject matter expertise.

The Working Groups met separately from the Task Force. Members of the public were invited to provide testimony in person during Working Group and Task Force meetings and through email. The Working Groups brought their recommendations to the Task Force where the recommendations were considered, discussed and, in some cases, amended at Task Force meetings before finalized.

Thursday’s report concludes the responsibilities of the Task Force as assigned by the governor. However, several members of the Task Force and Working Group may be asked to provide their expertise and insight as Colorado implements marijuana use by adults age 21 and older. The General Assembly must adopt implementing legislation before it adjourns in May and the Department of Revenue must adopt regulations for the marijuana industry by July 1, 2013. By October 1, 2013, the department must begin accepting, reviewing and processing license applications for growers, producers and retailers and must begin issuing licenses January 1, 2014.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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