SAGUACHE — During a work session Tuesday, Saguache County Commissioners further discussed the possibility of declaring a marijuana applications moratorium and a task force to recommend changes to the current application and enforcement process.
Commissioners Chair Jason Anderson began by instructing those attending the meeting that it was a work session and public comment would be limited at best.
The first item discussed was HB 17-1220, a state legislature measure that went into effect Jan. 1. The new regulation limits the number of residential plants residents can cultivate to 12 plants and if they have a medical license, a doctor’s prescription and have registered with the county, up to 24 plants. Penalties are set by the law for those growing more plants than allowed.
“The law is not addressing people, its addressing property,” Anderson observed.
Anderson made it clear the county could allow the 99-plant count even though state regulations have rescinded it, but would not allow a grow that large in a residential area. There is a broad interpretation of what is residential, he noted and currently only the Baca Grande subdivision in the county is strictly zoned residential. Residential, however, would pertain to land designated for single family use, Anderson added.
How the county will apply this law is something commissioners will need to decide, he said.
Moratorium, task force
Commissioners agreed that a moratorium may be possible but would only be temporary. Commissioner Ken Anderson indicated it may not be needed because many marijuana cultivators will not survive in the Valley. Anderson said if commissioners approve a moratorium there would need to also be a task force appointed to make recommendations regarding what changes should be made and how.
Ken Anderson later agreed a task force to go over the rules and regulations couldn’t be created without a moratorium. Jason Anderson said it would need to be preceded by public comment. Bill Case, who was attending the meeting, said the commissioners had all the comments they needed to proceed.
Another citizen commented that people are primarily concerned with county’s ability (or lack of it) to follow their own regulations, that it is not a robust process accompanied by follow through. Jason Anderson pointed out that the fact the county has a code enforcement officer proves they are serious about regulation, but are still in the first season and the “adaptive phase” of working those out. Others have commented that all the details should have been worked out long before applications were even taken for the grows.
Jason Anderson said the idea of having more public comment was to get as many ideas and views as possible before proceeding. A public meeting was set for Monday, Jan. 29 at the Road and Bridge Building from 2-5 p.m.
Jason Anderson said he has concerns about the moratorium both ways and recommended putting together a citizens’ task force first. Some of the recommendations for who should serve on the task force, made by Anderson, included two marijuana proponents, two marijuana opponents, two neutral parties, a representative from the planning commission, a member of law enforcement, the Saguache Public Health director and others.
He also recommended a work session be held strictly to decide how to allocate marijuana excise tax funds collected by the county. Other items to be addressed in the future, he said, include:
Jason Anderson said further that by 2019 the county will be facing “a dire financial dilemma,” partly due to declining tax revenues because of the structuring of the Gallagher amendment. The state legislature is scheduled to address the amendment this session, but there is no guarantee they can or will “fix” it, he agreed.
Sheriff Dan Warwick appeared before commissioners to answer questions about the revised sheriff’s office budget he submitted last week. Commissioners took up the thread that they gave Warwick all he asked for in his budget so he is fully funded, that he did not submit preliminary budget forms and that Warwick had not justified his budget increases.
They basically told the sheriff he should have asked for the increase the first time around.
“I’ve been told by you guys not to ask for more funding,” Warwick said. “The airport — how much money is going into that and to what purpose? Why not more on safety? We can’t check illegal grows [with limited staff] because by the time we get there they are packed up and have moved on.”
Commissioner Ken Anderson said changes to the budget process were made three years ago and the sheriff’s office needs to comply with that. Warwick said he likes it better the way it was before, when all department heads met with commissioners and communicated their needs in person.
Anderson agreed they could help Warwick out with a grant writer for some of the sheriff’s office needs and help increase revenue. But for a long-term solution, Jason Anderson said, another sales tax initiative will need to go to the voters. He told Warwick “Commissioners are more than willing to work with you,” adding that the county might be able to increase his budget, but commissioners need to figure that out.
“These grows put more strain on every service in the county,” Warwick told commissioners. “There is nothing but headaches. We have got to get it under control. We have let marijuana overrun us. I’m talking about both legal and illegal grows. Growers bring in this less than desirable element with them and a lot of these workers are from out of state.”
Warwick concluded with the comment, “We can’t get through another grow season manned the way we are. The grow we raided last summer in Bonanza may be coming back.”
Regarding the jail situation, Warwick added there has been some talk about building a combined jail for all six counties and commissioners said they are encouraged by this news. They indicated the discussion on the sheriff’s office funding matter will continue.