ALAMOSA — Though Amendment 64 allowed for patients and caregivers to grow up to 99 personal medical marijuana plants without a license, at the start of 2018 Colorado House Bill 17-1220 lowered the number to 12. Alamosa County, however, may raise that limit to 24 medical marijuana plants, which is allowed under the bill. Along with passing five amendments to the land use department’s development code on Wednesday, commissioners listened to a first reading of proposed medical marijuana changes to Ordinance 16.
Most of the development code changes were non-controversial, such as changing Alamosa County Land Use Administrator Rachel Baird’s title to Alamosa County Planning and Building Director, allowing special use permitted manufacturing in rural-zoned districts, and increasing the size of on premise advertising to a maximum of 150 square feet.
Officials also used the opportunity to clarify rules on commercial and residential accessory greenhouses. The new amendment to the code states that greenhouses used for commercial cultivation of cannabis—which includes marijuana and hemp—have to follow county ordinances. This allows for citizens to use greenhouses for farm-to-table cottage industries like normal without having a loophole for commercial cannabis growers.
“It’s a clear way that you can’t circumvent our other greenhouse rules,” Baird said.
The only amendment not approved was the suggestion of no longer notifying neighbors of zoning changes if the neighbors lived in a separate county. Right now if a resident were applying for a special use permit, all residents in a 1,500-foot radius—regardless of what county they live in—would have to be notified. The commissioners decided to keep it the way it is rather than leave residents of other counties in the dark.
“We want to cooperate with our neighboring counties,” Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn said. “If they’re notifying us, I feel that we should notify them.”
“I think it’s important,” added Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond. “I would want to be notified if there was another county affecting me.”
Later in the morning Baird returned in front of the commissioners to go over the changes to the county’s medical marijuana ordinance. Some municipalities, like the City of Alamosa, and other counties stuck with the limit of 12 personal plants while others like Saguache County increased the amount. After discussions with medical marijuana patients, and Alamosa County Undersheriff Shawn Woods, Baird felt like 24 is a reasonable number of plants.
“It’s 24 plants all of the time,” she said. “You can grow 24 plants, harvest them, and grow 24 more plants. That’s a significant amount of medical marijuana to meet medical needs.”
One change was the definition of “person” in the ordinance to clarify whether it is 24 plants per person or per household. Alamosa County Attorney Jason Kelly suggested defining a person as “any individual or group of individuals residing in the same residence.”
The ordinance also allows for infused products to be manufactured on rural zone properties. This will make it more convenient for growers so that they can operate all aspects of their business under one roof.
Knowing that the creation of edible products creates an odor, Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis wondered if that change would upset neighbors.
“You can’t be within 1,000 feet of any residentially-zoned property,” responded Baird. “It doesn’t mean that there won’t be residences nearby, but any type of marijuana business has to go through a special use so we’ll be able to evaluate it.”
Another major discussion point was how to fine those that violate the amended ordinance. Baird suggested increasing the fine with every plant over the threshold of 24. The first offense would be a fine of $500, the second offense would be $1,000 and the third offense would be $5,000, yet each noncompliant plant and day of violation would count as a separate offense.
Commissioner Yohn said that was too strict and wanted the wording of “each plant” over the amount allowed changed to “any plant,” thereby creating a blanket fine that didn’t scale too quickly. Baird argued that if the fines weren’t high enough it would only be a slap on the wrist for millions of dollars worth of plants.
“It is supposed to be excessive and exaggerated,” Baird said. “We may never collect those fines, but we’re just trying to get them out of the county.”
In the end it was decided that the first offense would be a flat fine of $500 and after the second offense it would increase based on the number of illegal plants.
The full ordinance will be published at a later date. Since it was only a first reading the discussed alterations were not formally approved. The second and final public reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the commissioners’ meeting on June 13.
“I do not think that we ever will be interfering with your average patient,” said Baird. “This is as much to protect medical marijuana patients and caregivers and to help them as it is to penalize illegal grows. If we don’t do anything then they’re limited to 12 plants and there’s nothing they can do about it.
“If we don’t get a handle on the illegal market in Alamosa County, we’re just inching towards a time where it could maybe be banned in the whole state...If we have illegal grows all over the place, we’re not doing our part to protect them.”