(Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Jefferson County commissioners push marijuana task force for more info

The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners will make the ultimate decision on whether or not to allow marijuana businesses into unincorporated Jeffco, but the board is in no rush to make a decision.

After a marijuana task force appointed by the board recommended that the county permanently ban marijuana businesses in the county, the commissioners heard from both sides last week during their staff hearings and decided to bring the group back in a few weeks. The group also produced a 134-page report.

“It’s not an easy discussion. There are some very strong feelings on both sides. It’s something I take very seriously. We don’t want to get it wrong,” said Commissioner Don Rosier, who represents the south and some of the mountain parts of the county, most of which are unincorporated.

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The commissioners can decide to ban all aspects of the marijuana business in the county, allow all aspects or allow some and ban some. The county placed a moratorium on marijuana businesses in July 2013 that expires Feb. 1, 2015. The commissioners can also extend the moratorium.

The task force, which met eight times over the course of three months, voted with eight votes for “opting out” on marijuana, two votes for “opting in” and one abstention.

Ronn Nixon, a paralegal and member of the Cannabis Patients Alliance, abstained and filed his own report to the commissioners, noting a “systemic institutional bias” regarding regulated marijuana in Jefferson County.

Nixon, a marijuana advocate, said there were two other supporters in favor of “opting in” who were not present for the vote.

A complaint from Nixon and the “opt in” side is that the task force seemed to split immediately and the task force didn’t discuss other alternatives such as partially opting in and only allowing testing facilities or grow facilities but no retail business, for example.

“It seemed clear from the start there was a majority who wanted to opt out,” said task force member Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group.

Elliott penned an opinion piece in the Sept. 20 Denver Post that explained why Jefferson County should opt in. The task force’s chairman, Tom Gorman, director of the of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, wrote an opposing piece in the same edition stating why the county should opt out.

Elliott’s argument is that marijuana is already prevalent in Jefferson County through the black market, and the county can hinder that and get tax revenue at the same time.

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The opt-out group has argued that marijuana is bad for the county’s public health and that legalization encourages youth use, among other things.

Both sides also had conflicting data to present. The opt-in group noted that 56 percent of voters in Jefferson County supported Amendment 64 when it passed in November 2012. The opt-out group pointed out that in a recent telephone poll, 72 percent of respondents said they did not want recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated Jefferson County.

“There’s so many unknowns, that to take a chance on it being negative, it would not be a sound decision,” Gorman said.

The county’s public health director, Dr. Mark Johnson, was a staff appointee to the board. He was in the opt-out camp. He said that while the wording of the recommendation states “permanent,” it can be overruled by the Board of Commissioners anytime.

“It’s always known that a future board of commissioners could change it,” Johnson said.

Rosier said he hopes to bring the full contingent of the task force back to discuss the issue further, rather than appoint another group to look at issues such as zoning, licensing and other issues the commissioners would have to discuss should they decide to opt in.

Nixon thinks that is a wise choice and hopes the commissioners study the issue thoroughly before making a decision.

“My recommendation to the board would be to gather all the info they need with which to make an enlightened decision,” he said.

Joe Vaccarelli: 303-954-2396, jvaccarelli@denverpost.com or twitter.com/joe_vacc

This story was first published on DenverPost.com