SAGUACHE COUNTY — Many of those opposed to the approval of the statewide marijuana initiative that first legalized grow operations in the Valley are putting their heads together and coming to the conclusion that not only is a moratorium needed in the county — it is essential to the county’s economic survival.
In the past several weeks, citizens have written letters to the editor and contacted the Center Post-Dispatch with concerns about illegal grows, the inability of the sheriff’s office to address the illegal grows already identified in the county because of underfunding and the increase in crime that has accompanied the legalization of marijuana.
Like the story of the boy who tried to plug the dyke with his thumb, countermeasures are simply not sufficient to stem what quickly has become an out-of-control problem. Some of those who sat on the board established to develop regulations for the grows and the implementation of the application process have commented that many of the objections made at the time were not heeded and the result was predictable.
While many see marijuana as the ultimate “cash crop” and believe it is the solution to the county’s financial woes, others paint a darker picture of what the county may become if growers wishing to establish large grows continue to receive approval from the county for their operations. Among these are Moffat residents, who had little if any say in the grows that sprang up in their town, some of them medical and others apparently illegal.
Others cite problems in Villa Grove and Bonanza, home of the recent illegal pot bust that netted $5 million in mature plants.
While the focus initially was on the fact that the county has issued more permits than any other Valley county, the main concern now is that the process used to vet those making the applications is fatally flawed, both at the county as well as the state level. Examples of this have been forwarded to the Center Post-Dispatch and are currently under review.
Number two on the list of concerns is the depletion of water reserves, which might not be as adversely affected if a moratorium is declared soon, but could be impacted if the county continues its current rate of approving grow applications. This being said, the real concern is not the legal grows, but those who are growing secretly on residential wells, artesian wells, domestic wells and by hauling water illegally from local water bodies and their (sometimes unsuspecting) neighbors.
One statistic has been verified recently by witnesses who overheard a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official discussing the number of illegal grows in the county, currently estimated at 595. An email from another DEA official estimates there are literally “thousands” of illegal grows throughout Colorado, far too many for the agency to even begin to address.
Other concerns raised are the impacts on the county infrastructure such as roads, on wildlife, the ability to attract desirable businesses to the county and the overall impact on agriculture.
Finally, citizens are understandably concerned that marijuana grows adjacent to their properties will decrease property values. They also point to the eyesores that have grown up around grows or grower hopefuls in Lazy KV Estates, along Highway 17 and in the Crestone/Baca, creating blight and unsanitary living conditions the county seems unwilling to address.
Those who are determined to advocate for a marijuana moratorium are insistent that the following issues be addressed by the county:
Coverage of these issues will continue in next week’s Center Post Dispatch