With the legalization of recreational cannabis many came to Colorado looking for the “easy money” to be made off cannabis.
By overreaching limits set in state regulations in writing regulations unique to Saguache County, Saguache County Commissioners have created more problems than they have solved. County residents are questioning the wisdom of a headlong pursuit of marijuana businesses.
At the heart of the debate is how the county is spending revenue from excise tax and licensure fees for marijuana growers.
Citizens, jail staff, and law enforcement all agree that more oversight of marijuana regulations is needed so that people can be safe and legal businesses can flourish.
Funding for the Saguache County sheriff’s office has not changed significantly in over a decade, yet the nature and scope of emergencies has increased. A greater volume of calls is an obvious outcome of more people living and working in the county. A drive up Highway 17 to the north end of the Valley shows where most of these people have shown up in search of cheap land and lax regulations.
Current lists provided by the county land use office show 33 permits for marijuana-tied businesses, doubled from the 17 reported March 20, 2017.
The most recent financials provided by county administration show that over $170,000 has been collected from marijuana-tied business licenses and excise taxes. The hiring of a part-time marijuana code enforcement officer, a much-needed position, does not even begin to account for the revenue being collected even with the current problems in the collection process.
The commissioners, who control the county budget, including that of the sheriff’s office, would rather take refuge in arguments about process and comparisons to the lowest of standards of similar counties than address citizens’ valid concerns about public health and safety — and how these services will be provided and paid for.
In a functional government revenues from development (properly taxed improvements, increases in fees and special assessments) adequately fund increased demands for necessary services.
The 2018 budget shows an ending general fund balance for 2017 that has increased $657,436 over the ending general fund balance for 2015. Pipedreams of airports and solar farms need to be set aside in order to adequately fund essential services and infrastructure needs.
It is time for Saguache County Commissioners to take care of the business of the county – collection of property taxes, funding essential services and plan for the future demands that are inevitable as marijuana businesses continue to grow and proliferate.
Lisa Cyriacks is a fair government advocate and freelance writer living in Crestone.