Medical marijuana regulations in Boulder: Should grow operations run on wind power?

Yesterday, we previewed a Boulder City Council meeting at which new medical marijuana regulations would be presented for the first time.

According to Boulder mayor Susan Osborne, "there were a lot of good points made" on both sides of the issue. And she was particularly impressed by the idea of potentially requiring grow operations to purchase wind-power credits -- a way to make greens operations greener.

"Grow operations use an awful lot of water and electricity," Osborne says. "And I believe we already have provisions in the code about the volume of water -- how it's going to be charged for and special waste-water fees. But one council person [Macon Cowles] pointed out that with the city trying so hard to reduce our carbon footprint, one requirement we should consider is requiring grow operations above a certain amount of electrical consumption to offset their electrical energy use by buying wind power from Xcel, or by using solar panels or that kind of thing."

The time is still right for such brainstorming, Osborne believes, because adopting the new code isn't imminent. The council took steps toward extending its temporary ordinance -- an action that will likely take place during a meeting on March 17, pushing passage of the permanent code back to April at the earliest. If that schedule holds firm, council will have more opportunities to address questions and concerns raised at the meeting. For example:

"We heard from a couple of people who live in a mixed-use project downtown," Osborne notes. "In the last decade, we've really promoted housing in our downtown area above stores, and we heard from people who are very concerned that a ground-level retail spot had been leased to a marijuana dispensary -- and I'm concerned about that as well. We don't allow marijuana dispensaries in residential zones, so this seems like a loophole we need to fix.

"On the other side," she goes on, "we heard from a lot of people from Growing Colorado," a coalition of medical marijuana businesses. "One young woman spoke about not really understanding how some of the provisions in the code would really apply and suggested that we have a commission -- we've had blue-ribbon commissions before, so she suggested a 'green-ribbon commission' -- to go over the ordinance from the perspective of making it really understandable to people who own and run medical marijuana dispensaries.

"And there were a lot of questions about the fees. We asked the city attorney and the planners to tell us why the fees were set the way we were, because some people said they were so high that they would cause them to go out of business, and that's not the intent."

In the meantime, of course, the Colorado legislature is set to consider medical marijuana legislation that would institute a nonprofit, as opposed to for-profit, dispensary model. In Osborne's opinion, "that's another reason why April is probably not a bad time to look at this in its final form" -- and she doesn't think all of the council's work will be for naught.

"Most of our ordinance deals with land-use matters," she maintains, "and I think those will always be reserved for local government. But ours also deals with licensing and how we want to deal with that -- and we're really struggling with where these things go."

Since everything's in flux, Osborne concedes that "we don't know which ideas are going to fly and which ones aren't." But the wind-power notion still holds a strong appeal for her.

"If grow operations are going to be a permanent part of our industrial-area picture, and we're working to make that sector more efficient, why wouldn't we at this time take care of that problem? The incremental cost difference isn't really very much, and we're hearing from people that they want to be part of the legitimate business community -- and this would certainly be one way to, if not endear themselves to the city, at least have them be with the program. So I think that's something I probably would support."

Rather than simply watching the concept blow away...

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts