By: By Teresa L. Benns – Updated: 9 hours ago
It is amazing what a stiff set of regulations can do to keep out unwanted development and how loosely written regulations can invite in all manner of exceptions and excesses.
The case in point here is the vast difference in Saguache County’s handling of oil and gas development and its creation and modification of marijuana regulations.
When Saguache County officials set out over a decade ago to regulate oil and gas development in the county, plenty of people were up in arms about the damage such proposed development could cause to the aquifer, surface water, wildlife habitat, wetlands, the environment in general, air quality, properties bordering the developments, and reclamation of land following the end of drilling.
There is an entire section on visual impacts, with detailed instructions on how drilling operations must not impede property owners’ views. There are separate sections on water and air quality, wildlife habitat, negative impacts to existing resources (recreational, historic and cultural, economic and agricultural) and a long section on public health, safety and welfare.
There is another long section on performance bonds and emergency response bonds, also liability insurance. Neither emergency response bonds or liability insurance is mentioned in the marijuana regulations or in the proposed revisions to those regulations,
Fortunately the Oil and Gas Commission had laid the groundwork for much of this oversight, over many years, but there is no similar organization with decades of experience and research under its belt to regulate marijuana.
It is in these regulations that we find mention of public hearings and how they are to be conducted. And low and behold, attached to the oil and gas regulations is a separate seven-page document entitled the Surface Owner Bill of Rights, summarizing the rights of owners as laid out in the regulations.
It is true that oil and gas development poses a much greater threat to health and safety, given the volatile nature of gases as the products and by-products of such development. And of course fracking, especially, can pollute water sources. But at least these dangers are known and acknowledged. Not so with marijuana and its impact on water and soil.
Because the county’s oil and gas regulations are tightly structured, there have been few if any applicants to set up shop in the county. The perception of officials was that such development was unwelcome by residents and they acted accordingly. So what happened with marijuana?
Well money, for one thing, and a general perception of cannabis acceptance by all those who were not rural residential property owners impacted by a grow. But as a number of citizens have tried to explain to commissioners, many of those Saguache County residents voting for the “constitutional right” to grow marijuana had no idea what they were really voting for. Certainly it was not the unrestricted right to plop a grow down in everyone’s backyard, or introduce criminal elements into the community.
Saguache County oil and gas regulations run to 45 pages; there are only nine pages of marijuana regulations. Even though the county’s master plan, which it is obliged to follow, suggests the creation of a landowner’s bill of rights, such a bill has never been written. And certainly there is no landowners bill of rights attached to the marijuana code or proposed revisions to the code.
Had the county handled marijuana sales and cultivation as it did the oil and gas regulations, county residents would have been spared the infringement on their property rights. In the end, if such a bill of rights is not attached to the marijuana regulations, all the other suggested revisions are just so many bread sops cast to the restless crowds.