County postpones decision on medical pot

Commissioners will revisit licensing of facilities during April 24 meeting

County commissioners have decided to delay by one month a decision about whether to ban medical marijuana operations and licenses in unincorporated areas of the county.

A public hearing on the proposal, originally slated for next week, now is scheduled for April 24 during commissioners’ regular 10 a.m. meeting in the commissioners meeting room at the La Plata County Courthouse, according to a Thursday news release.

The delay will “allow more time for research and information gathering by county staff prior to the presentation of the topic to the board,” the release said.

County officials, who spent months developing land-use regulations and licensing rules for medical marijuana facilities, decided to consider the ban after learning the county’s insurance carrier, OneBeacon, won’t provide liability coverage for the county’s medical marijuana regulatory activities. OneBeacon cited conflicts in state and federal law, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug, in explaining its refusal of coverage.

Meanwhile, Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said the city’s coverage, provided by insurance carrier CIRSA, which provides pool coverage to more than 200 cities and towns in Colorado, is not in jeopardy.

If approved, the county ban would immediately halt issuance of new land-use permits and licenses for commercial growers and producers in unincorporated areas of the county. Permits already issued, including a new permit issued this week, would expire June 30. At that time, the businesses would be forced to close.

Dispensaries in Durango, and a single “grand-fathered” growing operation inside city limits, would not be affected by the ban. Retail shops selling products grown or produced in the unincorporated areas of the county would have to buy their products elsewhere, though. Primary caregivers also would not be affected.

County Attorney Sheryl Rogers said La Plata County was the “first county to ask the question” in the state and other counties also could run into similar problems with their insurance coverage.

Bobby Lieb, chairman of the board of county commissioners, called the situation “unfortunate.”

The county has tried to be expedient and a leader in developing its regulations and rules, he said. But because regulating the medical marijuana industry is “uncharted territory” in Colorado, there are risks in that.

“The first one through the door is always going to stub his toe,” Lieb said.

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