Split vote approves Saguache County land use code

SAGUACHE —In a two-to-one vote Tuesday, Saguache County commissioners approved amendments to the county’s Land Use Code/marijuana regulations but the exact changes to the code were not discussed, highlighted or summarized for consideration.

Commissioner Tim Lovato voted against approving the amended code, telling his fellow commissioners that 90 percent of his constituents were not satisfied with the amendments. He also repeated a request for a cap on marijuana grows.

Copies of the draft regulations posted last week to the county website were not annotated to indicate where changes were inserted. The Land Use Code runs to 47 pages with 15 pages of definitions and the changed version of the code would need to be compared line by line with the previous version to determine what changes were made. Even those involved in the amendment process were not sure what changes were approved by commissioners.

Most agree the primary changes include the requirement of a $100,000 closure bond to rehabilitate property once a cultivation business is closed; plant count limits of 12 per residence for personal medical and caregiver grows and 24 with a variance from the county. To grow additional plants, county commissioners must review reasons for the need to exceed that amount and can grant the variance. 

While the requirement to bring a variance before commissioners for approval before exceeding the 24-limit was enforced in the amendments, commissioners have always been required by the code to review variances and approve them in a pubic venue.

Commissioner Jason Anderson announced he has spoken to Sheriff Dan Warwick, and Warwick says he cannot find any illegal grows in the county. Others have complained that the tip line set up to report illegal growing activity goes to a cell phone which is then routed through dispatch at the sheriff’s office. Some citizens maintain the complaints left with dispatch are not relayed to the sheriff to investigate.

Some residents have voiced the belief that illegal growers are tipped off and pack up before law enforcement can even begin an investigation.

Commissioners pointed to a downturn in marijuana prices when lifting the moratorium Tuesday and did not believe they would be flooded with applications. But others believe applicants are standing in line.

County Attorney Ben Gibbons, Land Use Administrator Wendi Maez and commissioners discussed a fee structure for criminal violations (misdemeanors) for those cited for exceeding the plant count. The fines for the various violations will be set over the next few weeks. At the judge’s discretion, depending on how many plants are being grown illegally, offenders could spend 90 days in jail.