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The End of Big Home Grows in Colorado Draws Near

Chris Roberts

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Authorities in Colorado aren’t waiting to see what moves—if any—Donald Trump’s administration will make to pare back the state’s booming marijuana industry. For now, Colorado is cracking down on itself.

For years, law enforcement throughout the Great Plains region have blamed Colorado for an influx of cannabis and accompanying drug trade-related violence throughout neighboring states. This alleged havoc was one of the chief arguments used by attorneys general in Oklahoma and Nebraska in a (failed) lawsuit to try and convince federal authorities to intervene in the state’s legal cannabis trade.

Though the violence cited by Oklahoma AG Douglas Peterson—and later repeated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions—may not exist (which may explain why the Supreme Court refused to give his lawsuit a hearing), the weed certainly does.

As of now, Coloradans can grow more marijuana at home than anyone else in America. Under current Colorado law, medical marijuana patients and their caregivers can grow up to 99 plants in a “residential setting,” no commercial license required. And adults 21 and over can enjoy even more privilege.

Under Amendment 64, the state’s recreational cannabis law, adults are allowed six plants per person—but people are also allowed to can band together and form a “cooperative grow.” These co-op grows are limited in size only by resources and imagination. According to the office of Gov. John Hickenlooper, there is “theoretically… no limit” to how big a recreational cannabis co-op grow can be.

Compare this to states like California, where home grows are strictly limited in plant counts and size—or to Washington, where there is no growing of recreational marijuana allowed at home at all, and medical marijuana grows are strictly limited to four plants, with minor exceptions allowed only in extreme situations—and it’s easy to see why even some supposedly pot-friendly lawmakers in Colorado admit that the state has a major “gray market” marijuana problem, one that may draw unwanted attention from the federal Justice Department.

“I do believe we are taunting the federal government to come into the state of Colorado,” said John Jackson, a police chief and member of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

And if that happens, the economic boom that’s allowed localities to pave streets and rebuild schools thanks to the tax revenue gleaned from $1.3 billion worth of annual marijuana sales is in jeopardy.

To avoid such a showdown, Hickenlooper and leading state lawmakers are pushing to limit home grows in Colorado to no more than 12 plants per residence. And as ColoradoPolitics.com reported, instead of risking small fines and the chance to cut down offending plants to an acceptable limit, violators would be subject to a $1,000 fine on a first offense—and a felony arrest thereafter.

Some local jurisdictions already limit home grow to 12 plants, but this would be a statewide limit—and it appears to have significant support in the Colorado state legislature. The restrictions passed a committee hearing on Monday, the Gazette reported, and while changes, including a tweak of the final plant count limit, could be forthcoming, the days of enormous co-op grows in Colorado seem to be ending.

The evidence appears to be on law enforcement’s side.

Last fall, DEA agents and local authorities seized more than 22,500 pounds of cannabis in raids in five Colorado counties. Some of it came from home grows set up by “groups of people” who continue to flood to Colorado to “take advantage of legalization,” according to Sgt. Emory Gerhart of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, in comments to the Gazette. Gerhart took a reporter to the home of a family of “Cubans” who had 99 plants. Nothing wrong with that, but there are 100 more grow houses like it in El Paso County, the lawman told the reporter—and according to the DEA, another 250 are in the vicinity of Colorado Springs.

Of the cannabis produced at these locations, “95 percent” is exported illegally to other states, Gerhart told the newspaper. He declined to cite or provide evidence to back up his claim, on the basis that doing so would provide an advantage to marijuana-trafficking lawbreakers seeking to stay one step ahead of police.

Cannabis patients and advocates are not happy and say that limits will punish law-abiding patients, while outlaws will continue to thumb their noses at plant limits of any size—99, 12 or fewer. And shouldn’t it be obvious on inspection who’s obeying the law and who’s taking advantage of the demand for black-market cannabis?

As state Rep. Leslie Herod put it: “I’m not understanding why law enforcement, with the sophisticated tools that you have at your disposal, how you can’t tell the difference between a caregiver grow and a cartel grow?”

“The real issue,” said Larisa Bolivar, executive director of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, “is that cannabis is not legal across the nation.”

She’s right, but good luck having that argument with Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, who set off fear and anxiety every time they open their mouths on marijuana. If states can continue to be scared into submission, the feds may not need to take any nationwide action on marijuana.

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