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County declines lifting medical marijuana mortorium

July 13, 2010

Marijuana seeds.
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Randy Woock, Staff writer, TTi   •   July 12, 2010

The county declined to oblige the request of a medical marijuana farming cooperative at its July 6 meeting to lift its current moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana-related businesses in the county.

 Michael and Tom Clark of the Tree of Live Caregivers Cooperative were seeking from the county a local nursery license for grow operations, one specifically stating the intended crop to be medical marijuana, as required by state regulations.

 “In order for anything to go ahead, in order for these off-site centers to be able to grow, we need from the county a nursery license that has on it that we are going to grow medical marijuana for a center or a manufacturing company,” Tom Clark said. “I cannot do anything with these two contracts that I have until you figure out what you want to do on your moratorium.”

Adding, “If we do wait overly long, we are going to miss the opening gate on this.”

 The county first established a moratorium on medical-marijuana businesses last November, renewed in late May for an additional six months, ostensibly to allow time for the state to solidify its regulations regarding the businesses. Gov. Bill Ritter signed comprehensive regulations for the medical marijuana industry in mid-June, though the commissioners told the brothers at the July 6 meeting that they were still waiting for additional direction on the issue, including regulations from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Part of the state’s new regulations allow governmental entities to allow or ban the industries in their areas of jurisdiction.

 “What this board is taken action, is to see what other counties are doing, that way we’re not in a legal battle. The federal government is saying it’s illegal, the state’s is saying it is legal, so we’re waiting to see what legal counsel comes up with,” Commissioner Jim Montoya said at the July 6 meeting. “There’s several options, but at this time we’re trying to get from legal counsel what we need to do so we don’t end up in a legal dispute, so I don’t think we’ve taken a hard stand (on the issue) one way or the other.”

 The regulations require dispensaries to certify by September that they are cultivating at least 70 percent of the marijuana they sell. The Clark brothers had been hoping to convince the county to drop its moratorium before that date, allowing them to recruit local farmers to cultivate off-site grow facilities for dispensaries located elsewhere in the state. 

Tom Clark emphasized to the commissioners at the July 6 meeting the potential for the industry’s growth, even within the state’s set limit of 1,000 new applicants per day for medical marijuana cards. “That’s $90 per application for every business day they’ve been open — 21 or 22 business days in a month — $90,000 a day the state has been receiving for the last six months,” he said. “They are six-plus months out in getting any of us who have applied a current card. That means they have six full months of 1,000 people a day to go still to go, if (those applicants) don’t get their new prescription today.”

 Adding, “By the end of this year, 240,000 – 250,000 people over 21-years of age in this state who can vote in this state are going to have their medical prescription card and be buying medical marijuana from various centers in Colorado….and there are counties right now and cities right now where people who grow (medical marijuana) have a right to grow for these centers (that sell medical marijuana).”

 In a previous interview with The Times Independent, the Clark brother had stated that they were not interested in establishing a dispensary in Las Animas County, only in inviting local farmers to participate in their medical marijuana growing cooperative.

 “Right now there are so many people scrambling up in Denver because there’s no way they can grow 70 percent of their stuff by themselves,” Mick Clark had told The Times Independent. “(The dispensaries) would have the contract with the actual farmer to deliver the goods to them…the co-op could hopefully put the farmers together with the dispensaries.”

 The brothers had suggested that farmers utilizing a small portion of land could derive about four to eight ounces of medical marijuana per mature plant, potentially earning a farmer $2,500 – $3,500  per pound wholesale in Denver, with the average grow operation containing anywhere from 300 – 800 plants. They had also emphasized the agricultural focus of the industry as being more stabile than the boom-and-bust industries like the oil and gas industries whose current downturn has dealt a heavy blow to the county’s tax base. “If I were the county, I would say, ‘let’s do it and let’s charge them a fair-sized fee to get started,’” Mick Clark told The Times Independent. “(The county government) needs money so badly, why not charge a couple thousand just to get started (with a grow operation)?”

 In his address to the commissioners, Clark acknowledged the decades of pervasive social and government propaganda that those seeking to work within the medical marijuana industry often faced. “The word ‘marijuana’ brings up social prejudices,” he said. “People’s faces can become blank in a heartbeat if you just say the word.”

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