Mesa County imposes yearlong moratorium on medical marijuana

Mesa County on Monday imposed a yearlong moratorium on the growth, sale and distribution of medical marijuana in unincorporated areas of the county, giving officials time to study the county’s ability to regulate the business.

Commissioners Steve Acquafresca and Craig Meis approved the moratorium, which goes into effect immediately and prohibits applications for marijuana-related businesses or land uses. Commissioner Janet Rowland was absent from the meeting.

Existing dispensaries aren’t affected.

The county joins the city of Grand Junction and town of Palisade in implementing time-outs on the industry, which has exploded in the last several months in Colorado. The city of Fruita imposed regulations in December that restrict where shops that sell and distribute marijuana can locate.

Acquafresca said now is an appropriate time to enact a moratorium because those in Grand Junction and Palisade could push dispensaries into the county, and because officials don’t know whether regulations being contemplated by the state Legislature will be adequate, if any are adopted at all.

County officials admit they don’t know how many dispensaries operate in the unincorporated areas or where they are located. Unlike Palisade and Grand Junction, which can track dispensaries through the sales-tax licenses they issue, Mesa County’s sales-tax licenses are issued by the state, making it more difficult for the county to track.

Land Use and Development Division Director Linda Dannenberger said it’s only been in the last two or three months that the county has fielded inquiries about permitting dispensaries. But she said none that exist applied for or received a permit. If they had, they likely would have been rejected.

“We don’t have any place in our (land-use code) where this sort of land use would fit,” said Donna Ross, county development services and code enforcement director.

Meis directed county code-enforcement staff to examine dispensaries operating out of homes to ensure they are abiding by the county’s home-based business guidelines. He also inquired as to whether the county could ban dispensaries because it may not be able to provide the level of services needed to oversee their operations.

Assistant County Attorney David Frankel said he doubted the courts would uphold such a ban.


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