He doesn't smoke it and he doesn't eat it, but Scott Mullner sure knows the value of medical marijuana.
That's why he wants to ensure that a 67-acre former organic egg farm he is buying north of Longmont can legally be the site of an extensive medical marijuana cultivation operation, complete with growing, harvesting and drying operations tucked into five buildings that used to house chickens.
Mullner, a 43-year-old farmer and a Laramie, Wyo., city councilman, has no plans to grow marijuana himself -- by law, he said, out-of-state landowners can't -- but he said the potential to do so is critical to maintaining the value of the land.
"As an investor, you want to preserve the best use, the highest value," he said. "The goal was to get in an application (to Boulder County) and preserve that use on that land."
Mullner's application, which he submitted before county commissioners passed regulations in June prohibiting medical marijuana operations in agriculturally zoned areas, seeks to change the current use designation on the land from commercial feed yard to intensive agricultural.
He said property taxes are so high in Boulder County that preserving the right to grow a lucrative crop like marijuana is essential to ensuring that land doesn't plummet in value.
"It cannot be subdivided, it cannot be developed," he said of the farm at 10437 Yellowstone Road that used to be home to an organic egg operation run by Cyd and Steve Szymanski. "I had to do this. It's the highest and best use as far as farming goes. I just wanted to preserve the rights of any future user."
But neighbors, alerted to the plan, aren't pleased with the prospect of living next to an 11-employee medical marijuana grow facility running from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
Robert Duran, who has owned nearby Duran's Hobby Acres Greenhouse for more than 20 years, said he is afraid of what a potential pot growing operation could do to the reputation of his plant, flower and tree-selling business.
Only recently has he gone from being solely a wholesale operation to opening a retail component at his greenhouse on North 107th Street that is designed to bring customers in.
"All of a sudden, if you get something like that -- which is a negative in so many peoples' minds -- it could hurt my business," he said.
Harold Henke, who owns property adjacent to the Szymanskis' plot, said he is mostly concerned about the scale of the proposal.
"This would be an industrial scale operation to grow medical marijuana," he said.
Henke said Mullner's application doesn't specify how he would deal with wastewater and with traffic going in and out.
Henke's wife, Rebecca, said she wants to know more about the security precautions Mullner plans to implement at the site.
"I am concerned about prowlers," she said. "If you put that much pot in one place, that's going to attract thieves. And they're going to be sneaking around my property to get in there."
Summer Howard, a planner with the land use department, said the application is on hold until Mullner can provide more details about what sort of fencing and lighting he would put in. She said the county also wants to determine if such a facility would be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
"We want to know if what they're proposing will affect the character of the community in a negative way," she said.
Mullner said he believes a medical marijuana growing operation would have far fewer negative effects than a feedlot operation, in terms of noise, smell and traffic.
"For adjacent landowners, it's a much better fit," he said.
Jeff Gard, a Boulder attorney who specializes in medical marijuana law, said the whole situation might prove academic, given state laws that passed earlier this year impose strict limits and conditions on growers and dispensaries.
He said Mullner, or whomever he eventually leases or sells the land to, will find setting up a large grow operation very difficult under the laws, which prohibit growers from supplying pot to multiple dispensaries.
But he credits Mullner for crafting a clever legal argument for propping up the value of his land and is curious to see if the county agrees with him.
"It's certainly creative," Gard said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or firstname.lastname@example.org.