“We don’t regulate hemp processing, extraction,” said Land Use Administrator Lex Nichols.

Nichols had just wrapped up a land use hearing before the Nov. 25 Board of County Commissioners meeting. He had moved to leave but paused to discuss some findings on hemp regulations deployed, or not deployed, by other Colorado counties.

The state Department of Agriculture oversees hemp growth operations. However, according to Nichols, they are hands-off as far as hemp extraction regulation goes.

“We, the county, treat (hemp extraction) as an ag operation, like making hay pellets or something like that,” Nichols explained. “We don’t have any regulations as far as processing and extractions.”

Some counties, such as Arapahoe, have implemented new codes,” Nichols said.

In Arapahoe County’s case, its codes address fire suppression and engineering. But Otero County, at least for the foreseeable future, isn’t interested in implementing new hemp regulations of any form.

The county has some control over permit issuance, but that is restricted to use by review in specialized districts such as an industrialized zone.

As Nichols said about one such case in April, the Colorado Department of Agriculture is the regulatory agency for hemp, and the county must honor hemp as an agriculture product because of state statute.

Nichols and Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin agreed that because Otero is such a small county, and because it is an ag-and-ranch community, that they don’t want to stifle new hemp business by implementing regulations, permit fees or similar barriers. Nichols added that other ag-based communities in the state approach hemp regulation with the same attitude.

“Some (counties) will get a little bit more in depth because they can capitalize on permitting and fees like that. We’re such a small area; we don’t want to put shackles on somebody that’s trying to start a new business or something,” said Nichols. “It may be something in the future, if there happens to be something that rears its head. Then we could look at maybe putting some kind of permitting in place, but at this time we just don’t want to regulate hemp extraction.”

“I think that’s true of the whole approach here,” Goodwin added. “We’re a farming and ranching community and we need to let the farming and ranching succeed. We don’t need to be putting in any regulations in place that are hindering (that).”

But is a total lack of oversight protecting hemp farmers as intended?

In January of last year, first-time hemp farmer Shamao Yang’s harvest was seized by neighboring Bent County’s sheriff’s office. The two parties claimed drastically different amounts of product had been seized. The sheriff’s office said it had seized more than 10,000 pounds of suspected marijuana after acquiring a warrant to search a storage locker rented by Yang in Las Animas. Yang contested the sheriff’s assertion that the substance they seized was marijuana; he said they took about 2,700 pounds of harvested hemp he had stored there.

Nearly eleven months later and there has been no update regarding the status of Yang’s crop, which begs the question: If Bent County had a more hands-on approach to hemp regulation, could Yang’s dispute with the sheriff’s office have been settled more quickly, or altogether avoided?