SAGUACHE — Saguache County Commissioner Jason Anderson greeted those attending the Jan. 29 discussion of a marijuana moratorium with the following: “Welcome to the world of legalized marijuana,” reminding attendees that Colorado residents have a constitutional right to grow, possess and use the drug.
Upwards of 100 people attended the meeting, lining the walls of the Saguache Road and Bridge meeting room. Several growers and those favoring the grows were in attendance. But the majority attending were residents who believe the marijuana application approvals cranked out by the Saguache County Planning Commission (PC) and approved by commissioners have reached their limit and need to be dialed back.
Residents also protested the approval of the applications at a planning commission meeting held Jan. 25. To date, J. Anderson announced, 29 grows have been approved. It was later determined that not one application has been denied, by either the PC or commissioners.
Growers’ objections nearly all followed the same path — they have invested thousands of dollars into their grows, they have a constitutional right to grow, they have followed all the rules, their applications have been approved, they have families to support and employees to pay and a moratorium would either slow down or destroy their businesses.
They maintain they are responsible or will be responsible growers and do/will consider their neighbors’ rights and objections, they are employing county residents, they are contributing to the community and to the county budget, they are preserving the environment, they use less water than those growing agricultural crops and their traffic requirements are no greater than those of other farming enterprises.
Several growers and marijuana proponents voiced the opinion that the real reason residents are protesting is that they are opposed to marijuana from a moral standpoint. Others touted the medicinal benefits of the drug and the rights of patients, some of them children, to access their products.
Saguache Town Trustee Terry Gillette summed up the pros and cons of allowing the grows to be approved indiscriminately during his speaking time. He listed the pros as money, medical use and recreational use. The cons he listed as: increased crime (thefts, violence, illegal grows); in children and teens, hazardous exposure to second-hand smoke, edibles and in-home grows, resulting in harm to child growth and development; fire hazard (heat lamps, residential electrical overloads that could result in fire, overloading the town’s electrical system); water usage, (unregulated draws from irrigation ditches, commercial and other wells); ground water contamination, (from fuels and oils, fertilizers, even natural agents and chemicals); large increase in energy use (diesel, gas generators) and negative impact on local roads and property values, (roads not intended for commercial trucks, property values dropping, grows next to residential areas).
Citizen comment highlights
“There is a lack of zoning, a lack of concern for the community and [a lack of concern for] the county’s children and values… [In the working world] if I had ever passed as many grows as I’ve seen passed here in the last six weeks, I would have been fired. If you don’t enforce a code, why bother with a code?”
Jay Le Blanc:
“We still don’t know what the whole picture looks like. The county doesn’t have a handle on what’s going on. What kind of vetting process is taking place here?”
“We are randomly permitting too many additional grows. There is a legal right by the constitution to allow these grows but they are infringing on neighbors’, landowners’ rights. A six-month moratorium is too short, there are a lot of negative impacts and the moratorium needs to be retroactive.”
“In the big picture of things, I have to look at water. Commissioners need to listen to what landowners are saying and support a moratorium.”
Ken Skoglund, Moffat town trustee:
“I bought a water truck and the last three years have been the best years of my business. I work for illegal and legal grows.”
“Support a moratorium and abide by the law; the laws in Saguache County are not being enforced. Commissioners need to make sure applications are reviewed properly.”
Travis Garoutte, Mountain Valley School Superintendent:
“There is a lot of pain in the community, anxiety and fear. My biggest worry is that students are becoming desensitized [to marijuana] — everywhere you go, it’s out there. Usage is up, according to school resource officers. At Mountain Valley, we’re taking steps to battle easy access, desensitization. We can’t control what kids do in their own time. Put the brakes on a minute, think about what’s going on.”
“We should never have adopted the idea that the only way to do economic development is marijuana.”
Several citizens complained of grows surrounding their homes and ruining their views and peace and quiet. Many objected they had never received notices before the grows went in. Both at the Planning Commission meeting and the public meeting, parents and grandparents voiced their complete disillusionment with the permitting process that has cost them the loss of their views, their privacy, quiet play areas for their children and the dream of owning a country home free of the city hustle and bustle.
Nearly all residents (but not growers) favored the moratorium. While commissioners made it clear at their last regular commissioners meeting that they favored turning the regulation revision over to the planning commission rather than creating a task force to oversee the revisions, they denied they had made any such decision at the public meeting.
When the public meeting concluded, commissioners indicated there would be other public hearings before the issue is decided and no decision on a moratorium would be made until then.