Medical marijuana rules

The La Plata County Planning Commission took a significant step in tackling the new regulatory obligation prompted by voters’ legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In approving a series of land-use rules that dictate how production and storage facilities in unincorporated areas of the county can operate, the commission has extended to operators of such businesses a welcome level of certainty. The Board of County Commissioners should endorse the commission’s work and approve the rules.

The land use rules would place restrictions on the exterior signage that growing and production operations can have on their facilities, as well as limit odors, and other indications of marijuana-related activities. They would also require added security measures at the production, growing or storage centers, but state law sets more stringent parameters that would supersede county regulations in that area.

The slate of rules the Planning Commission adopted only apply to facilities in unincorporated La Plata County, and would prohibit them within 1,000 feet of schools, child care centers, and drug and alcohol treatment centers, or within three miles of Bayfield and Ignacio.

The land-use regulations the Planning Commission approved are stringent, but in setting a clear protocol for operators of such facilities, there are no questions about what is allowed and where. Providing that clarity is essential for business owners, or those interested in investing in a growing, production or storage facility allowed under state law.

The land use rules do not, however, address the licensing requirements that the county adopted in December, with a strong message to current or would-be business owners that the ground could shift at any time. Those stipulations were called into question in April when the county discovered its insurance provider might not extend liability coverage for marijuana-related regulatory activities. The county briefly considered a ban on all such operations in the county, but has since backed down from that position after being provided some assurances of protection for its regulatory efforts.

Nailing down just how to manage marijuana operations in the county, legal under state law but not so under federal statutes, is no small challenge for La Plata or any county, and commissioners have been clear that the target will likely be moving for quite some time to come. That makes investing in such an operation a riskier business than others about which the rules are clear, and the county’s efforts at providing what certainty it can are important and welcome.

The businesses affected by licensing and land-use requirements in the county number less than 10, and all of their permits expire at the end of June. At that time, each will need to reapply for licensure with the county. The rules that the Planning Commission adopted on Thursday will be considered by county commissioners on June 19, presumably in time for them to be in place during the permit-renewal process. That is appropriate and encouraging, and combined with the confidence the county now feels about its coverage for regulatory activities related to medical marijuana, should give operators a relatively clear sense of the landscape before them.

Medical marijuana regulation is not a clear-cut undertaking and the county took on a large task when it endeavored to create its own rules. The process has been correspondingly bumpy, but appears to have smoothed somewhat – to the benefit of regulators and business owners alike.

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