The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners has voted to prohibit certain marijuana related activities in unincorporated El Paso County, including Falcon. Colorado Constitutional Amendment 64, approved statewide in November and effective December 2012, allows individual counties and cities to regulate or prohibit retail outlets and commercial grow operations in their area.
Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. According to the Colorado amendment, personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is legal under state law. Use of marijuana is permitted regardless of county or city action as long as it is consumed in a private residence or club; or “(not)conducted openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others.” The amendment allows individuals to grow up to three mature plants for their own use. Up to one ounce or less can be given as a gift – no money exchange – to anyone 21 years of age or older.
Amendment 64 requires that the Colorado Legislature pass regulations on how to implement licensing for retail stores, commercial grow operations, product manufacturing and testing facilities by July 1. Cities and counties have until Oct. 1 to pass regulations for their own areas, at which point the state will begin processing applications for retail and commercial licenses.
The amendment provides for revenue sharing to the city or county that has jurisdiction over any retail stores or commercial grow operations it chooses to license. According to Provision 5 of the amendment, 50 percent or $2,500 out of a maximum $5,000 fee per year for a retail store or commercial grow license would go to the city or county. The remainder would go to the state. A 15 percent excise tax on marijuana grown in the state would be credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund; which can be used anywhere in the state, regardless of where the grow operation is located.
The El Paso BOCC acted quickly to exercise their right to limit the commercial aspect of Amendment 64. On Dec. 12, only two days after the amendment went into effect, the board passed the first reading of an ordinance prohibiting the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities and retail marijuana stores in unincorporated El Paso County. On Jan. 15, the second reading also passed, making the ordinance a law for the county. Commissioner Peggy Littleton was the only opposing vote at each reading.
According to the ordinance text, “Making marijuana more readily available in the community and facilitating the recreational use of marijuana presents a threat to the health and education of El Paso County's children, to the safety of the workforce and to the public health, safety and welfare as a whole.”
The business community actively encouraged the board to pass the regulations far in advance of the Oct. 1 deadline. “The day after the vote, we had companies we had been working with saying they were concerned. Hugely concerned,” said Joe Raso, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. “How does this affect the employee/ employer relationship? How does this affect our productivity? What legal rights does the employee have against the employer? And the answer is: We don't know. Not good.”
The city of Colorado Springs has not passed any regulations limiting commercial marijuana activity.
The county also passed regulations prohibiting the use or possession of any marijuana on county properties, including parks. With individual use unaffected by the county ordinances, individual businesses also have started to clarify their own policies about use. “We allow tobacco smoking on the golf course. Only tobacco,” said Wayne Reorda, operations manager of the Antler Creek Golf Course in Falcon. “We'll be making that clear in our course rules.”
Amendment 64 does not change federal laws against marijuana use or growing, nor does it change current laws on medical marijuana dispensaries, which are also only legal under Colorado law, not federal law.
Next month: Will surrounding counties give up the revenues, too?