A hemp grower has requested that Montezuma County commissioners lift the ban on commercial marijuana operations in the unincorporated parts of the county.
Green Lynx Farms near Mancos hopes to transition from growing hemp in its greenhouses to cultivating marijuana for the wholesale market.
A poor hemp market has forced the company to rethink operations, said company investor Kevin Wing during a presentation Tuesday to the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners.
The company would like to grow commercial marijuana to provide a local supply for retail shops, he said.
Green Lynx Farms is in the unincorporated county, which prohibits commercial marijuana operations.
The company “respectfully requests the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners lift the moratorium and end the prohibition on operations of marijuana facilities,” Wing said.
The hemp market was strong when Green Lynx Farms began operations, Wing said, but it has since crashed, forcing them to shut down. Their $2.2 million facility includes a 13,800-square-foot greenhouse.
After startup in 2018, the facility produced and sold 70,000 industrial hemp clones, and in 2019 it sold 30 pounds of female industrial hemp seeds. Green Lynx Farms had a staff of 34 employees
Then the economic downfall triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic hit the hemp business and industry, Wing said.
Wing said the company’s inventory includes more than 2,000 pounds of hemp biomass and more than 50 pounds of hemp seeds, but there is no market for it. Staff was laid off, and the operation was forced to essentially shut down.
In 2020, hemp biomass is selling for $6-$9 per pound, down from and average of $35 per pound in 2018, Wing said.
The company researched other viable crops to grow at its green house facility, including gourmet garlic, tomatoes, and poinsettias, but none would generate the revenues necessary to justify use of the greenhouse, Wing said.
“They all fell short, except for one: marijuana,” he said.
Wing referenced the strong marijuana sales in Southwest Colorado, and the relative lack of commercial grow facilities.
As of June 2020, Colorado had 592 licensed retail marijuana stores, with 83 in Southwest Colorado, according to the Department of Revenue. In Montezuma County, 10 licensed retail marijuana shops are located in the cities of Mancos and Cortez. Statewide, there are 699 licensed retail marijuana cultivation including two in Mancos and two in Cortez.
Wing believes a lot of the local marijuana supply comes from other counties in the state, and that there is market potential for additional commercial growers in the area.
Lifting the moratorium to allow local grow facilities would help prevent “marijuana sales generated here from leaving the county,” Wing said. “We would like to keep more of that money in Montezuma County. We are trying to keep our business alive and switch to an industry that is more stable and sustainable. We would like to bring our employees back.”
Wing noted that since they improved the commercial value of the land, property taxes paid to county coffers increased to $14,000 per year up from $1,200.
“We’re heavily invested and taxed, and we are humbly asking you guys to consider helping us out here,” he said.
Commissioners inquired about potential yields and fees that could be levied by the county on the marijuana crop.
Commissioner Jim Candeleria said there is a problem of drug and alcohol abuse in the community, but there is a lack of funding to adequately address the issue. Fees collected from commercial marijuana grows in the county could provide that revenue.
“For me to even consider it, I want to know what the fees are, which is something we would establish before even consider lifting a moratorium,” Candelaria.
Wing and Green Lynx owners said they would research the matter of fee rates for commercial marijuana crops, and provide the information to the commissioners.
No decision was made on the matter. If lifting the commercial marijuana ban were to be considered, the land use code would have to be changed, which would require two public hearings.
Under Colorado law commercial marijuana grow facilities require a state permit and oversight. Counties and cities can choose to ban commercial marijuana facilities.
Industrial hemp is a variant of the cannabis plant that does not have the intoxicating THC content of marijuana. It is used for industrial and medicinal purposes and is permitted and regulated through the Colorado Department of Agriculture.