Saguache commissioners issue marijuana statement

SAGUACHE– Saguache County Commissioners, in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office and Land Use, released a statement Tuesday after recent protests by citizens regarding both legal and illegal marijuana grows in the county.

The county says it plans on hiring more employees for its enforcement division, will step up efforts to shut down illegal grows and will enforce state plant counts. The statement follows:

“In both 1992 [a medical marijuana initiative was approved by voters in 2000] and 2012, the voters of Saguache County expressed a desire, via the election process, for the freedom to grow and use Cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. It is our belief that the basis of this decision was a stand for personal freedoms and choice.

“Often, we hear more freedoms as a reason individuals choose to come and live in our vast and fairly empty part of the world. It is of high importance that we as the representatives of the people of this county defend those and other freedoms to the greatest extent possible. We also understand that with greater freedoms comes greater responsibility.

“With the legalization of Cannabis in both our state and county we have seen stark changes to our landscape and population. We have seen the introduction of a new industry that brings the possibility of jobs and income to an area that has struggled with poverty. We have glimpsed the production of hemp and its broad benefits to our valley and people in general as a beneficial crop. And we have seen the potential of Cannabis for medical purposes.

“Saguache County has seen difficulties from Cannabis also.  Environmental degradation, illegal water consumption, blight and land use violations are but a few of the challenges in a county that tries to adapt to a new legal landscape.

“At the heart of these issues is a strong public outcry to address the illegal market activities that abuse the privilege afforded by Colorado’s Cannabis amendments. It is our belief that with the tenuous state of relations between the state and federal government with Cannabis legalization, activities that operate outside of the state structure are a direct threat to the freedoms afforded our citizens of Saguache County.

“With this in mind the Saguache County Sheriff’s office, Land Use office, and Board of Commissioners issue the following message.

“If you are growing, possessing, and/or using cannabis within state and county guidelines, we both defend and respect your freedoms.

“If you are a commercial hemp or cannabis business operating within state and county guidelines we believe there is a place for you in the county, however we would remind you that living and doing business in this beautiful land is a privilege and we will protect our natural environment, and rural community life.

“If you are involved in the Illegal Cannabis market within the county, we do not have a place for you, your activities threaten families, community, land, and the freedoms we hold sacred.

“As a result of this the county will pursue the following actions.

-The hiring of a full-time code enforcement officer, operating under the sheriff’s department in partnership with both the commissioners and land use office. In conjunction, we will pursue the position of a code enforcement administrator to compile data, manage complaints, and assure a systematic enforcement of Illegal Cannabis market activities in the county. These positions, funded by excise tax, will not be limited to Cannabis.  Sanitation, building permits, and other land codes enforcement would also be addressed through these positions.

-The county will propose the adoption of state regulations that cap residential property plant counts at 12 plants, and 24 plants for medical license holders and caregivers. State statistics show that these numbers address the needs of 85 percent of medical license holders. We do understand there are those rare occasions when a higher plant count is necessary, and a process for those individuals will be proposed.

The new state regulations also allow for fines of $1000 for convictions of first illegal Cannabis offenses and increase from there.

- The addressing of local codes in relation to commercial operations within the county. It is clear that state regulations are no longer adequate to address the land use situations brought about by the growth of the legal Cannabis industry. We will also continue to review the counties existing regulations to adapt to the changing Cannabis landscape, and the will of our residents.

“At this time Saguache County would like to call upon our partner municipalities and property organizations to join us in the support of our citizens, their freedoms, the land, and our chosen way of life.”

Citizens comment

Following issuance of the statement, citizens commented on the implications of the announcement.

Martha Lange asked about strengthening the regulations for extraction facilities and was told the county may look into it. One man complained he had taken a $44,000 loss in his property value because of the grows surrounding him and another man said the grows were adversely affecting his allergies. Commissioner Jason Anderson told them the county doesn’t have the power to supersede the laws of Colorado.

Another citizen asked if the county would allow a citizen’s committee to be formed to review the regulations, and Jason Anderson said the county tried that method initially and found it took too long. The current moratorium, called to revise the regulations, only runs for 90 days. Joyce Swinney asked if the revised regulations would be retroactive, and county attorney Ben Gibbons assured her they would not be retroactive.

“So this means that what we have now is what we are going to be dealing with,” Swinney replied. In response to a citizen suggestion the county stop issuing growing permits,

Commissioner Tim Lovato said it is possible the new regulations could place a cap on the number of grows allowed in the county.

Commissioners generally directed citizens who wished to see changes in marijuana cultivation practices to attend the county planning commission now revising marijuana regulations.