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6/13/2013 Investors want to start pot-growing operation here

Westcliffe fame may be on its way. The warehouse next to Ace Hardware south of Westcliffe has been scoped out by people who are looking at opening a marijuana cultivating facility.

Amendment 64 was passed into Colorado law November 5, 2012, providing that recreational marijuana may be used by anyone over 21. Now Westcliffe is faced with the decision to either allow the cultivating facility in or keep it out.

Robert Seefried, Westcliffe town attorney, said Amendment 64 allows “cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp.” He also stated that local governments can ban retail sales, production and cultivation.

Now, marijuana is being set up similar to liquor licensing by Colorado authorities. It will first be controlled through a local license, and then the state will have the final issue of license. The regulations for marijuana are still being developed, but they will mirror regulations that control alcohol. It is up to the Westcliffe town board to allow the pot cultivation facility to move forward or put it to an end. Seefried said the Board has two options.

The first: Send it to vote. This is the most complicated route. If the board agrees to put it to vote, they must first pass an ordinance establishing a moratorium. A moratorium puts an issue on hold. In this case, that hold would go until 2014 when the people of Custer County can vote on whether or not they want a pot cultivation facility in Westcliffe.

The second: The board would have to pass an ordinance either accepting or declining the pot cultivation facility. Their decision would have to be done before October 1, which is the ordinance deadline.

Mayor Christy Veltrie said not much can be done to allow the cultivation facility because it doesn’t fall under title 10, which covers zoning regulations and land use. Since Title 10 stipulates a minimal land allowance for producing an agricultural product, Veltrie stated that the board can’t even look at a land use permit.

Nearby, Buena Vista, has allowed a similar facility. Veltrie expressed her willingness to have another go at the issue if other communities came forward with proof of significant increase in economy because of the facilities. If so, because it is such a controversial topic, the board would put it to vote as they did back in 2010 with medical marijuana. Seefried said that it was overwhelmingly rejected in the county when the votes came in. As of right now, Veltrie said the board will likely never entertain the idea of allowing a marijuana cultivating facility inside of Westcliffe or the rest of Custer County.

“I don’t see the board putting moratorium on this,” Veltrie said. Instead they will most likely pass an ordinance and shut the case down.

Marty von Boennighausen is preparing the sales contract for the unnamed group of investors from Breckenridge who are seeking to open the facility. Arthur von Boennighausen explained that the cultivating facility is not a dispensary.

The warehouse next to Ace Hardware is ideal for this type of facility, he said. It was built by John Comerford for his custom home business, and he continues to hold the note on the structure. It was last utilized a few years ago as a facility where specialized performance stage structures were assembled.

If approved, the marijuana plants will be grown inside the protected warehouse, then be processed and delivered to Breckenridge where the substance would be made available to licensed retail outlets. The pot would not be sold here.

The investment group is in the process of establishing their marijuana company, and has been advised to give it a name appropriate to Westcliffe environment.

The group would like to open the facility immediately, but understand that to move forward they need at least four people on the Town Board on their side. Boennighausen said that they have three confirmed to vote in their favor, and one still undecided.

Seefried said that the issue surrounding the facility will be up for debate during the next town board meeting on July 2.

--J.E. Ward