Chris Ward, owner of Aloha's medical marijuana center in Milner, closed his business Wednesday.

John F. Russell/file

Chris Ward, owner of Aloha's medical marijuana center in Milner, closed his business Wednesday.

Aloha's medical marijuana dispensary closes shop in Routt County

— In the midst of a divorce and a stack of criminal cases, Chris Ward on Wednesday closed his Aloha's medical marijuana center in Milner.

“Aloha to Aloha’s,” Ward said Friday, referring to the name of the business that means hello and goodbye. “I voluntarily closed it.”

By voluntarily closing, Ward said, he hopes he will be able to retain the right to reopen a dispensary in the future, though not necessarily in Routt County.

Ward was at risk of having his dispensary shut down by the state because of a series of domestic disputes beginning in May that could result in one or more felony convictions.

“That would have come into play at some point,” Ward said.

Colorado Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait said Friday that state statute can prohibit people from operating dispensaries if they have a felony conviction.

Ward said it's possible he'll plead guilty to a felony as part of a plea agreement during a sentencing hearing Tuesday. As part of a deferred sentence, the felony could be dismissed if Ward complies with the terms of his probation.

Ward has been charged with two counts of felony stalking, three counts of felony violating bail bond conditions, seven misdemeanor violating bail bond conditions, four counts of misdemeanor violating a protection order and one count of misdemeanor harassment.

With five children, Ward said he is considering taking the plea agreement because he cannot risk the consequences of a potential guilty verdict.

“If I lose any of the cases, it could be up to a year" in jail, Ward said.

Before destroying his 141 marijuana plants this week, Ward said he was considering selling the business, but that was complicated by his pending divorce. Ward said he and his wife were unable to come up with an agreement for selling the business.

“It’s pretty devastating,” Ward said. “We’re both out all the money we invested in the place, and we’re both out the tax liability we owe.”

At its peak, Ward said Aloha’s employed 50 people. The numbers dwindled, he said, and the business took a hit after a dispute between him and the county about whether a building on the property he rented could be used for growing marijuana. In a letter to the Routt County Board of Commissioners, Ward wrote the business was losing $1,000 each day.

“I’ve been fighting to get that grow space back,” Ward said.

Ward has not been afraid to fight in the past. His business survived a November 2011 countywide ballot measure to ban dispensaries. Ward said that he is facing multiple battles right now and that he closed the shop because he does not have the money to fight anymore.

Now that Aloha’s has closed, there are no dispensaries in unincorporated areas of Routt County and there likely will not be anytime soon. The Board of Commissioners passed a ban on dispensaries in June 2011. Aloha’s opened more than a year earlier and was allowed to continue operating because it was grandfathered.

“The ban states that no new operations can operate in unincorporated Routt County,” Assistant Routt County Attorney Erick Knaus said.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he supports the ban because the county’s master and land-use plans do not support commercial operations in rural parts of the county.

“These operations need to be in municipalities,” Monger said.

Three medical marijuana dispensaries currently operate in Steamboat Springs, and there is one in Oak Creek. Dispensaries are banned in the towns of Hayden and Yampa.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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