Saguache County residents share marijuana concerns

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 Saguache County — it is essential to the county’s economic survival.

Citizens are concerned the sheriff’s office is not able to address the illegal grows already identified in the county because of underfunding, and they are concerned about the increase in crime that has accompanied the legalization of marijuana.    

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.

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.

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 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. 

  Those who are determined to advocate for a marijuana moratorium are insistent that the following issues be addressed by the county:

• Well advertised public hearings on ALL potential grows and expansion of existing grows. The county should assure timely notices are issued to those owning properties adjacent to the grows before these hearings to allow existing property owners in the county to assess the impact on their property and investigate the potential buyer.

• A substantial funding increase for the sheriff’s office to allow adequate policing of legal grows and especially the eradication of illegal grows, also to address the increase of crime in the county.

• A mechanism to deal with those who are living in unsanitary conditions while conducting these grows, whether they are living here year-round or on a seasonal basis.

• The complete overhaul of the application process to correct the current omissions and oversights. A special non-partisan committee should be appointed to conduct this re-assessment with representatives being selected from each community. The goal would be to remedy improper vetting procedures that currently allow potential growers to misrepresent who is actually purchasing property.

• A verifiable and traceable paper trail for cash received by the county from growers, with the treasurer’s office verifying the money received and deposits made from any retail grow operations, also an accounting of fees paid to the county. Some suggest a neutral third-party should witness all revenues received from marijuana permitting and cultivation.

• The verification of funds received from marijuana sales by the county/state that are earmarked for marijuana education and schools, and the establishment of a citizen committee to oversee such funds and help determine where and how they should be used.