Treating marijuana producers like dirt

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Paul Danish/Sue France

On Nov. 6, 2012 the people of Colorado decisively voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Amendment 64 passed with 55.3 percent of the vote.

In Boulder County Amendment 64 received 66.4 percent of the vote. The margin in the City of Boulder was even higher.
But you would never know it by the cavalier way County and City elected leaders have chosen to “regulate” marijuana growers in the ensuing four years.

Start with Boulder County. Shortly after the passage of Amendment 64 the Boulder County Commissioners voted to ban commercial marijuana production in the agricultural areas of Boulder County. The ban applied to both outdoor and indoor production.

The ban on indoor marijuana production included production in commercial greenhouses. The last was a doubling down on a previous prohibition: Boulder County has rejected the construction of new commercial greenhouses in its agricultural areas for years.

The rationale for the ban was that marijuana production was more like an industrial activity than an agricultural one — which is true if growers are forbidden from growing their crops either outdoors or in greenhouses.

The result of this conveniently circular argument was that marijuana production in Boulder was ghettoized into warehouses.
One consequence of this is that marijuana producers have become voracious consumers of electricity — most of which is produced by burning coal or natural gas of course.

County government is given to over-regulating nearly everything, and the marijuana industry is no exception. Still, marijuana companies in the unincorporated areas count themselves lucky to be in the County, because compared to the City of Boulder’s regulatory practices, doing business in Boulder County is like being in Galt’s Gulch.

So imagine the consternation last week when the City of Boulder announced it was going to annex a clutch of warehouses in an enclave along 55th Street north of Arapahoe where 15 marijuana businesses are ghettoized.

If annexed, the businesses will have to obtain new licenses from the City of Boulder, a process that could take months, and then comply with the City’s considerably stricter (and pettier) regulations. Strictly speaking, they could be shut down the day they are annexed and not allowed to operate until they come into compliance.

How difficult might that be? Dan Anglin, President of Americanna, said he has identified 26 city regulations that could immediately him shut down if he’s annexed — including for having the wrong color tile on the floor.

An assistant city attorney says the city will find a way to allow the businesses to function until they can obtain new licenses, but it is cheerfully prepared to proceed with the annexation without having one in place.

The businesses and property owners were told on Friday, Aug. 12 that the proposed annexation would be considered by the City’s Planning Board on the following Thursday, so that the City Council could act on it by Sept. 6.

The City of Boulder routinely ties itself in knots with public process that moves at a glacial pace. So why the rush?
Because the annexation has something to do with Boulder’s plan to create a municipal electric utility, but it isn’t clear what.

However, annexing the properties would clearly have the effect of broadening the putative utility’s revenue base by bringing in some of the largest electric consumers in the Boulder Valley, which might make a scheme whose economics have always looked dodgy somewhat more viable.

I can’t imagine non-marijuana businesses being treated this shabbily.

Both the City of Boulder and Boulder County elected officials talk a good game about “sustainability,” but the way they treat the marijuana industry makes a mockery of their claims.

The way to create a more “sustainable” marijuana industry is for Boulder County to repeal its irrational ban on marijuana production in the county’s rural areas and its equally irrational ban on commercial greenhouses and encourage producers to use the sun for most of their lighting needs.

As for the City’s rush to annex the marijuana businesses, if the only way it can make its municipalization numbers work is by a forced annexation of people who have been forced to be profligate electricity consumers, maybe it needs to look at the propriety and morality of the entire exercise.