SAGUACHE — On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Saguache Board of County Commissioners voted to officially end the marijuana variances moratorium and revised its marijuana regulations to prohibit growing more than an additional 12 plants.
The final proposed revision of the variance regulation reads: “A variance for an additional 12 plants for medical purposes to create a total of 24 plants for medical or recreational use may be applied for and approved by the Board of County Commissioners with a total plant count per parcel of land or property being 24 plants on an annual basis.”
“All applications for variance will be filed with the Land Use Office, indicating the need for the variance requested. A marijuana variance fee will be charged as follows: $50 application fee plus $5 tag fee per plant for over 12 plants. A compliance tag will be issued for each extended plant count.”
Those making the request must also present proof of a viable water source and sewage disposal system. All marijuana variance requests must also follow all existing marijuana regulations. Commissioners will put the revised regulation to a vote at a future meeting.
“In the past a medical marijuana license holder could apply for a variance for up to 99 plants,” Commissioner Jason Anderson said. “Now it’s a max of 24.”
One person commented on the change, objecting that because some growers abused the system now everyone has to pay. “Some people did harm but not all should have to pay for it,” he said. “I abide by the law, do everything right and I am being punished.” He added that the new rules are unfair because he has already put $60,000 into his business and needs his medicine.
Commissioner Jason Anderson told him that with 24 plants he should be able to get a pound apiece out of them. “There’s just too many loopholes,” Commissioner Ken Anderson commented. County Attorney Ben Gibbons told the board that if they have any misgivings about the decision, they could always revisit it at a later time.
The moratorium is lifted beginning Dec. 4.
During their July 2 meeting, Saguache County Commissioners passed a resolution imposing a medical marijuana plant count moratorium as an emergency measure “to preserve the public health, safety and welfare, [which] shall take effect immediately.”
According to minutes from their June 25 meeting, commissioners approved plant count variances for individuals who now appear to have a total of 300 variances primarily in Lazy KV Estates, a popular medical marijuana growing area. In the minutes, Land Use Administrator Wendi Maze reported that there are several more variances pending for the same landowner and same area, but it is not known if these requests had any bearing on the commissioners’ decision to declare a moratorium.
Following the legalization of retail sales and cultivation of marijuana in 2000, the Colorado State Legislature enacted House Bill 17-1220 in 2017 which placed a 24-plant-count limit on growing medical marijuana on any residential parcel in the State.
In its variance moratorium declaration, the BoCC expressed the desire to “fully and fairly consider all actual and potential impacts to the citizens and environment that have been and will be caused by the continued issuance of medical variances permitting more than twenty-four (24) medical marijuana plants to be grown on parcels of property within unincorporated Saguache County.”
Earlier discussions focused on returning to the state standard to solve the problem. Interim County Administrator Wendi Maez suggested the county limit the number of plants to 12 “regardless of what their physician says.” Maez reported that one doctor advises his patients they can grow 75 plants or more nearly all the time while the other two doctors issuing marijuana cards advise 34-37 plants.
Commissioner Jason Anderson agreed, saying he had seen a lot of those asking for variances do so to take advantage of the system. But he added there also are those who genuinely need the extra plants, and these people must be considered as well.
Commissioners agreed state law is often confusing and contradictory and does not always offer clear guidelines.