In Boulder County, commissioners have placed a number of restrictions on where medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations can locate, limiting them mainly to retail or industrial areas, of which there aren't many in unincorporated areas.
Commissioner Ben Pearlman sees the unanimous action as a way to comply with the law while at the same time preventing willy-nilly growth of the industry in Boulder County.
"I feel we have an obligation to live by the state constitutional provision, as well as the state statutes that govern this issue," Pearlman says. "Although it's an extremely controversial issue, and I think one that we haven't really sorted through coherently as a society, it does appear there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana. We've heard a lot of stories from a lot of people whose lives have been improved -- but that gets complicated, because we also hear a lot of stories from people who believe there's illegitimate uses of medical marijuana out there as well."
In attempting to strike a balance between these two viewpoints, the commissioners limited dispensaries to areas zoned to allow personal services or retail establishments. Granted, "we don't have very much business-commercial-industrial zoned land in unincorporated Boulder County. We tend to allow intense development in the cities as part of our overall comprehensive plans." But commissioners didn't create the sort of moratorium that other counties and municipalities have enacted.
In regard to grow operations, "we recognize that they really look a lot more like manufacturing or industrial operations rather than traditional agriculture," Pearlman says. "So we've limited those to the zoning districts where we think they make the most sense."
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The twenty or so folks who shared their views with the commissioners before the vote were dominated by "proponents of allowing the industry to move forward, and to not see the rules and regulations that would restrict them," he recalls. "That's different from what we saw at the planning commission, where it was more evenly split between those who were concerned about the impacts of the industry and those who just wanted to work on the rules for the industry."
That's not to suggest, however, that the speakers opposed any and all regulation -- or that the commissioners weren't listening to their opinions. According to Pearlman, "we had a 500-foot rule, so we wouldn't have a concentration of centers in these zones. But after discussion, we came to a decision that while this was an important rule for the transitional business and commercial zones, it wasn't important for the industrial or light-industrial zones. So we made a change."
In the meantime, Pearlman believes that the largest problem Colorado officials face in regard to the medical marijuana issue involves "the lack of uniformity across the state. What I was hoping would come out of the legislation would be uniformly applicable rules, so we didn't see circumstances where some communities were shouldering more of the burden than others.
"We've yet to see how many of these centers will locate in unincorporated Boulder County, but there are a lot more places for them to locate with the cities. There's just not that much activity that we could ever have. So the bigger question is what happens across the state."