By Lisa Young
It’s right there in bold ink under Land Use by Zoning District, the two things Delta County officials won’t allow in its unincorporated area. Number one is “no marijuana” and number two is “no outdoor junk storage.”
Outdoor junk storage is here in abundance while the greener and potential money-making marijuana uses are flatly denied.
“The marijuana ban was put in place by the county commissioners right after the passage of the state wide initiative that made marijuana legal … and the land use plan is reflecting what the commissioners put into place some years ago,” said Robbie LeValley, county administrator.
Until just a few weeks ago citizens were mute on the marijuana prohibition, focused rather on intensive agriculture setbacks and the Right-to-Farm expansion by the county. However, with Paonia and Cedaredge testing the waters this November on retail and medical marijuana things could get interesting.
“I just think it’s unfortunate that the county and their land use plans say no junk yards, no junk and no marijuana grows. I think that’s unfortunate because we won’t be able to supply locally grown pot,” said Paonia Trustee Tamie Meck prior to the town board approving two marijuana questions for the November ballot.
Paonia town council took note of the problem, addressing its concerns in a letter to county officials stating “the ban on marijuana uses in any zone is not in the best interest of the long term growth and financial prosperity of the county.”
“Ag is ag and marijuana is ag. Why are we saying ‘no’ to marijuana when we’re promoting agriculture across the board. I mean this is really a high dollar crop. Why not let people grow it?,” questioned Paonia Mayor Mary Bachran.
The Paonia letter says the county’s marijuana ban “demonizes a legitimate form of agriculture” while claiming that legalized cannabis is a highly lucrative form of agriculture and is far less intrusive and harmful than confined animal feeding operations.
Delta County Commissioner District 3 candidate Jere Lowe called the prohibition “ridiculous.”
“We’re long overdue, we’ve seen that the sky hasn’t fallen. The tax dollars are real and in Delta County we’re long overdue to stop leaving that money on the table,” he said.
“I hope they change their minds on the whole marijuana issue and allow marijuana farming and small businesses to create custom products within the county. I did talk to the planning committee and there was some consensus among some of the members, but they didn’t vote on it,” said Bachran.
“I think the planning commission would be amenable to some changes especially if they got more than Paonia’s voice on it. Whether the commissioners will allow that to stand or change it back is another question entirely. We wouldn’t have gotten the 1,000 feet setbacks if they hadn’t gotten all the pushback that they did,” said the mayor on intensive agriculture setbacks.
While the town of Paonia plans a $5 occupational tax on sales from retail and medical marijuana to fix the town’s infrastructure with a 10-year sunset, Cedaredge proposes to use an imposed 5% sales tax on marijuana sales to fund its police department, transportation and parks and recreation.
In 2013, Delta County Commissioners approved an ordinance which prohibits marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities as well as retail sales in the unincorporated portions of the county.
The ban came despite the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012. The ordinance states that approximately 54% of voters in the county voted against the measure. The ban excludes industrial hemp.
The second ordinance passed in 2018 limited the cultivation, growth or production of marijuana plants to residential property within unincorporated Delta County and limited the number of marijuana plants to 12 per residential property regardless of the number of persons residing at the property.
According to the county, the land use code is in line with the current ordinances and cannot be changed unless a change to the two ordinances is made.
“Delta County Board of Commissioners continue to maintain their stance on recreational marijuana, outlined in the aforementioned ordinances due solely on their desire to promote the health, safety, and welfare of all present and future residents of Delta County,” said Darnell Place-Wise, county public information officer.
With four marijuana ballot measures being proposed for some Delta County voters, it’s a fair bet that municipalities, business owners and farmers will begin pushing the county to change the two standing ordinances and eliminate its current prohibition on marijuana uses as they reach for a piece of the pot pie.
Editor’s Note: The Delta County Independent contacted Wendell Koontz, District 3 Commissioner candidate, and Delta County Commissioners Mark Roeber, Don Suppes and Mike Lane for comment prior to print.