In the eyes of law enforcement, Colorado’s headlong pursuit of legal recreational and medical marijuana has created a colossal problem. Saguache County residents at the recent commissioners’ meeting would agree – and add that Saguache County by overreaching state regulations in their writing of regulations for Saguache County has created more problems than it has solved.
These same citizens also recently expressed concerns about the inability of the sheriff’s office to address illegal marijuana operations due to underfunding by the county commissioners. Underfunding means fewer deputies, fewer hours for patrols. Underfunding that is occurring during an increase in crime overall. This increase in criminal activity has been occurring in the same time frame as legalization of marijuana.
Saguache County, in pursuit of a share of the cannabis market, approved regulations December 2016 that allow individuals to apply for “extended” numbers of plant counts in exchange for paying a fee.
The reality is: while some in the industry are cashing in by playing by the rules, others are bending the rules to serve customers outside the regulated market. More and more people are moving to Colorado to take advantage of legalization, and some to make vast sums of money selling pot on the black market.
In the 2017 state legislative session, legislators, in the hope of reducing the volumes of illegal grows and making illegal operations riskier, adopted two bills to make it easier for law enforcement to conduct raids.
House Bill 17-1220 includes this language as justification for limiting plant numbers to 12 per residence with an exception for state approved medical marijuana cardholders with 24 plant count cards:
“Large-scale, multi-national crime organizations have exploited Colorado laws, rented multiple residential properties for large-scale cultivation sites, and caused an influx of human trafficking and large amounts of weapons as well as the potential for violent crimes in residential neighborhoods.”
There is no real estimate available on how many Colorado houses have been converted into illegal grow spaces, their rooms gutted and electric service maxed out. The US Border Patrol reports that less marijuana is crossing the US border. At the same time, some border patrol officers say they have seen an increase in cartel activity growing marijuana on the US side of the border.
This narrative is repeated in police reports, federal raids and prosecutions around the state.
Why are Saguache County Commissioners leaving a loophole for the gray and black marijuana markets? Why are they ignoring constituents’ concerns about public safety and criminal activity? When are they going to adequately fund the sheriff’s department?
Lisa Cyriacks is a fair government advocate and freelance writer living in Crestone.