Colorado Medical Marijuana Industry Braces for July 1

On Friday, July 1, a new set of medical marijuana regulations will go into effect across Colorado, dramatically increasing the amount of oversight imposed on the industry by the state.

Locally, the medical marijuana industry in Garfield County is facing its own new realities, in the form of an ongoing moratorium on new medical marijuana growing facilities, and a ban on sales and manufacturing outlets in the unincorporated portions of the county.

The proprietors of two medical marijuana outlets, Hydroponic Creations and High Country Caregivers, both on Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs, say they expect to close their doors by Friday.

“I’m gone,” said Nathan Traul, 29, owner of High Country Caregivers. “I’m closing.”

Traul has been open for more than two and a half years, in a building at the intersection of Highway 82 and Garfield County Road 115 (Red Canyon Road).

“I was the first one in the county,” he said, adding that he thought he was doing the right thing by locating in the unincorporated part of the county rather than in Glenwood Springs, where he lives.

“This is still a tourist-based economy,” he explained. He didn’t want to see pot shops on Grand Avenue because it might not sit well with tourists.

But in 2010, county voters outlawed retail outlets such as his in the unincorporated areas of the county. In the same election, voters outlawed manufacturing for edible medical marijuana items, but approved medical marijuana dispensaries to also grow medical marijuana.

Justin Rambo, an owner of Hydroponic Creations at the intersection of Highway 82 and CR 113 at the CMC turn, is expecting to merge his operations with another medical marijuana business “that is not in a banned location,” and will close his existing store.

He was unable to give details about how or where he will be operating, but stressed that he is only interested in complying with applicable laws and regulations.

Although Rambo was considering a lawsuit against Garfield County over the forced closure of his business, that plan has been scrapped according to his attorney, Rick Neiley.

Observers predict the state’s new rules will prompt dramatic changes in the medical marijuana industry, which was legalized by a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution in 2000.

Some say the changes are disastrous for patients’ rights and for those who seek to supply patients with the medicine, as permitted by the state’s voters more than a decade ago. They contend the new rules will force some of the 800 or so medical marijuana centers now operating in the state to close.

Others, however, maintain the regulations are needed to prevent fraud and other crimes, and to keep the burgeoning industry in check.

“I don’t see this as bad news,” said Dan Sullivan, co-owner of the Green Medicine Wellness medical marijuana center at the corner of Grand Avenue and 11th Street in Glenwood Springs.

He said that he has been forced to spend considerable amounts of money to comply with the new laws.

“I view this as a good thing for the industry. It will certainly create a more structured environment,” Sullivan said. “I think it legitimizes the industry as a whole.”

He noted that there are more than 4,000 people directly employed in the industry today in Colorado, each of whom will be closely checked for criminal backgrounds and other disqualifying histories. All who work directly in the “bud bars” of dispensaries must wear badges issued by a state agency indicating they have passed the state’s security inspection.

The new set of regulations was approved earlier this year by the state Legislature. The regulations:

• Require stepped-up store security to prevent burglaries.

• Mandate a “seed-to-sale” tracking system, which includes a mandatory video surveillance of the cultivation process and the sales facility where the medical marijuana is stored and sold.

• Enforce an 8 p.m. closing time on all medical marijuana centers, which is earlier than some have been staying open to date.

• Impose registration requirements on caregivers, who grow medical marijuana for up to five patients.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that some Colorado caregivers are getting out of the business rather than submit to registration on a database, while other caregivers are taking a more creative approach.

A Denver caregiver, Timothy Tipton, was quoted by the AP as suggesting the formation of medical marijuana collectives, which would offer growing space to qualified patients interested in cultivating their own medicinal plants.

The Colorado Constitution specifically permits a certified medical marijuana patient to grow up to a certain number of plants for his or her own use.

In general, the new regulations “just make us stronger,” said Sullivan. “Will there be some that fall out pretty quickly? I think so. Do I think it’s going to limit patients’ access? No.”

– Article originally from The Post Independent.