SAGUACHE — Saguache County Planning Commission (SCPC) work sessions are scheduled for March 12 or 15 (TBD) and March 22, also following the regular meeting March 29, to begin the process of revising marijuana regulations to better review and process retail marijuana applications. The first two meetings will be held at 5 p.m. at the Road and Bridge Building in Saguache and the last meeting at the same location whenever the regular SCPC meeting ends.
The work sessions follow citizen demand for a marijuana moratorium specifically to revise the regulations. Citizen comments are limited during a work session or are not allowed at all. A citizens’ work group was initially suggested by commissioners to examine the regulations, but was never formally approved.
Many residents in close proximity of the properties proposing or engaging in marijuana cultivation have complained they never received notices before the grow applications were approved by the SCPC. Others say they protested the approval of grow applications at the SCPC meetings but their comments were largely ignored.
The possibility of bias in the wording of the Land Development Code regulations regarding the county’s “policy” to give preference to Conditional Use Permit (CUP) applicants should especially be addressed. SCPC members have been heard to comment that they must follow this policy as long as the information provided by CUP applicants is complete and accurate. In many cases, this information has not been complete or accurate but the SCPC has approved the applications anyway.
In adding the marijuana regulations to the Land Development Code, it is not clear if the regulations supersede the CUP regulations or whether the already existing regulations on CUPS prevail. It would seem that since nearly all marijuana cultivations have been issued a CUP, the CUP regulations would take precedence, but this is not stated in the marijuana section of the Land Development Code. And as noted above, the county’s policy on issuing CUPs is questionable.
Pueblo County appears to have addressed this problem. Those revising the regulations should pattern their revisions off the ones provided by this county, which like Saguache County has allowed a large number of grows. But unlike Saguache County, Pueblo allows its citizens to participate in the application approval process as provided by law. When the term “public hearing” is seen below, this must not be confused with a public meeting.
A public hearing, formal or informal, is a legal process required for approving CUP permits, as a brief survey of practices in other jurisdictions in the state demonstrates. This means all CUP permits, not just those dealing with marijuana. This hearing must be noticed in a newspaper and copies of the notice sent to those whose property is adjacent to the grows or changes of use for the property in question, where marijuana is not involved.
The hearing is supposed to provide an impartial panel to decide the matter more as a judge would decide it, accepting evidence and hearing testimony. Where impartiality may be a problem, as is often the case in Saguache County, a hearing examiner experienced in land use matters may be employed to protect the rights of all concerned and guarantee everyone due process.
A public hearing was held by commissioners on the marijuana regulations in May of 2016. But some observe these hearings have never been routinely conducted as required by law in the county. Many citizens within close proximity of the grows have not been notified of the impending cultivation application nor advised by written notice they may protest at SCPC or BoCC meetings in a formal (or informal) hearing setting.
This is one of the omissions by county officials that has allowed these grows to be approved quickly and without the sometimes lengthy process of holding frequent hearings and deciding the matter based on the evidence presented. The following provides an overview of the hearing process as contained in Pueblo County regulations. The website should also be viewed to observe the strict vetting process the applicants are subjected to by Pueblo Land Use officials.
County of Pueblo — 5.12.70 Standards
Notice the emphasis above in 5.12.70 no. 4 that hearings are required for all marijuana establishments being constructed in a residential area. Commissioner Jason Anderson declined to define the term “residential” at a commissioner’s meeting last month but inferred it could apply to rural residential properties as well. Otherwise, residents would need to request such a hearing if one is not scheduled by the SCPC. It would seem that only those establishments being constructed in a commercial area could be exempt from the hearing requirements.
As many have noted following the discussions preceding the declaration of the marijuana moratorium, regulations are fine but they must be followed and enforced. Counties are allowed to make their own marijuana regulations but are not allowed to disregard the due process state and federal law accords to every citizen.