May 13, 2014 8:56 PM by Andy Koen
PUEBLO - The conflict between state and federal law over the legality of marijuana could potentially dry up businesses that depend on the drug in Southern Colorado. Many utilities are looking for guidance from the federal government about selling water to marijuana growers, especially when the water is acquired through federal contracts like the Frying Pan Arkansas Project.
Similar to the concerns of banks who have declined marijuana businesses as customers for fear of being charged with money laundering, the utilities don't want to run afoul of Controlled Substances Act.
Pueblo Board of Water Works Executive Director Terry Book said his agency has been exploring the potential pitfalls with help from their attorneys and the Bureau of Reclamation.
"We've gotten some indication of what their position is, that it's illegal under federal law," Book said. "We don't know how that impacts all the different contracts that we have."
Roughly twenty percent of Pueblo's water is tied to federal agreements, but Book doesn't believe the remaining 80 percent would be affected even though it passes through the Pueblo Dam which is also controlled by Reclamation.
"Yes, they come through a federal facility, but the federal facility is required to let those water right to pass," Book explained.
Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson Kara Lamb told News 5 in a statement they are studying potential conflicts of Reclamation water.
"At the request of various water districts in the West, Reclamation is currently evaluating how the Controlled Substances Act applies in the context of Reclamation project water being used to facilitate marijuana related activities," the statement reads. "We will work with our water districts once the evaluation is complete."
The Saint Charles Water District has already blocked marijuana growers from being customers until the issue is settled. Marisol Therapeutics owner Mike Stetler told Pueblo County Commissioners yesterday his private water vendor plans turn off the tap to his grow operation in a week.
Book says the board members plans to discuss the issue with their attorneys in executive session at next week's meeting. Likewise, Pueblo West Metropolitan District Manager Jack Johnston said his board is having discussions with their attorneys to ensure they've followed their due diligence with respect to taps issued to marijuana businesses.