by Rick Langenberg:
County leaders delay marijuana prohibition
When it comes to legal marijuana, one of the main lightning rod issues across the state, Teller County government officials have surprisingly taken a seat on the sidelines.
However, county elected leaders may soon dive head first into the “Strawberry Fields” of marijuana, once touted by a popular Beatles’ song. The county commissioners are scheduled to tackle this volatile issue at a regular meeting scheduled for March 14. They had wanted to hit the legal cannabis trail this Thursday (Feb. 28), but opted for a slight delay in proposing legislation that would outlaw recreational-pot businesses. “Stay tuned,” said Teller County Commission Vice-Chairman Norm Steen, who predicts a more defined and detailed policy position in early to mid-March regarding the county rules for marijuana and other aspects of addressing Amendment 64 (the state law legalizing the limited consumption and ability to grow marijuana for recreational purposes).
Contrary to their government peers in El Paso, and in most municipalities in the area, such as Cripple Creek, Woodland Park and Victor, Teller elected officials have stayed completely out of the marijuana trenches, created from the passage of Amendment 64.
But according to Steen, county leaders have been doing their marijuana homework, including monitoring the issue with key committees designated by Colorado Counties Inc., talking with law officers and justice experts and overseeing the actions of the governor’s post-Amendment 64 steering committee. “We want to make sure we get it right,” said Steen.
In previous forums, the commissioners, with a vastly new board, have publicly stated their opposition to Amendment 64, which passed by a strong majority statewide and even by a slight margin in conservative Teller County. Moreover, Teller leaders are still bothered by the obvious clash between federal and state policies pertaining to regulating marijuana. Marijuana is still regarded as an illegal Controlled Substance, viewed in a similar vein as heroin by the feds. Steen said he would like to see more defined policy statements by the federal government regarding how it plans to deal with pro-marijuana laws in such states as Colorado and Washington.
In a television interview earlier this year, President Obama suggested that enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized its limited use for recreational purposes won’t become a high priority for his administration, with no dedicated resources. But he fell short of announcing any broad-based policy changes in the war against drugs, and whether he favors the limited legalization of marijuana on a national scale. “You can take that for what it’s worth,” quipped Steen, who doesn’t believes these earlier statements by Obama constitute a major policy change. In 2011, stern warnings were made by the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding licensing cannabis dispensaries. This put a halt to earlier attempts to develop county rules for regulating medical marijuana.
Most government observers are predicting that Teller County will most likely follow suit with other entities in the region and will pass rules banning marijuana-related businesses and cannabis cultivation operations. But that action won’t impact current medicinal pot shops that currently exist.
A proposed agenda item for the commissioners’ Feb. 28 meeting called for a resolution prohibiting the operations of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing and testing facilities and retail marijuana stores in the unincorporated sections of Teller. But at the request of Teller planning officials, this prohibition measure was postponed until March 14.
County officials are hoping to get more guidance from the state.
Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger said he wants to see the state take a stronger legislative role when it comes to regulating pot. “They need to legislate Amendment 64,” said the sheriff in a recent interview. “We need to know what laws to enforce,” stated Ensminger. Law officers and state officials are currently finalizing legal efforts to determine what quantities of marijuana consumption constitute driving under the influence offenses. “It is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs,” stressed the sheriff. In fact, under Ensminger’s interpretation of Amendment 64, people can’t smoke pot in their vehicles since that constitutes a public area. But he admits that interpreting many provisions of the new law can be quite challenging.
Officials hope this will get worked out by a new steering committee formed by Governor John Hickenlooper.