In a rare show of bipartisanship, both the Colorado House and the Colorado Senate unanimously approved a bill that reduces the residential medical marijuana growing limit from 99 plants per household to 12 plants per household.
If patients and caregivers register with the state, they would be allowed to grow up to 24 plants due to an exemption to the 12-plant limit.
The 99-plant growing limit previously established in Colorado statute was far higher than any other marijuana state in the nation. Sponsored by House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, supporters of House Bill 1220 believe that reducing the residential growing limit to 12 plants can help law enforcement agencies better deter black market growers, investigate massive, illegal operations and protect neighborhoods from potential public safety hazards and decreased property values.
The violent crime rates in Colorado have dropped since the state legalized marijuana. But some illegal operations have exploited the lenient growing limits, as discovered by recent law enforcement stings. These busts showed some illegal operators have conducted large growing operations in Colorado and then move the marijuana into the black market or across state lines where profit margins can be much higher. That’s where HB 1220 comes in. Supporters contend that reducing the residential growing limit can deter and detract these illegal organizations from continuing to operate in the state.
“Stopping diversion to the black or gray market is a significant benefit of the bill,” Becker told The Colorado Statesman. “We hope the bill can stop cartels, or really anyone who thinks they have an opportunity to discreetly grow in homes in Colorado.”
Law enforcement agencies are generally supportive of HB 1220. At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, many agencies lamented that the exorbitant grow limit made it difficult to decipher whether large grows were being cultivated by innocent patients or instead by criminal organizations. In turn, they assert that reducing the grow limit would help agencies more effectively identify and stifle illegal operations.
“Police deserve to know where these growing operations are as they masquerade themselves into these family neighborhoods,” Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police leader John Jackson said to the committee. “This bill, by limiting the plant count, is the most important initiative that will make the largest positive impact in what we have seen become a prolific perversion of Amendments 64 and 20.”
Unanimous support for the bill came after law enforcement, patient groups, local governments and the governor’s office were able to forge a compromise.
Proponents say the emerging need for Colorado to defend the marijuana industry from federal interference is another advantage in this legislation. With the Trump administration threatening to crack down on marijuana states, HB 1220 helps Colorado lawmakers resist intervention from the federal government by demonstrating that the state can competently regulate the industry on its own.
“We can’t trust the Trump administration to be measured in their response to legal marijuana,” Rep. Becker told the Statesman. “I want to protect Amendment 20 and Amendment 64 because they’ve been successful and that’s what the voters want; but to do that, I think we have to show that we are addressing illegal diversions.”
Additionally, supporters say that the lower residential growing limits can allow the state to gather more accurate data when tracking the amount of seed-to-sale plants being circulated in the recreational or medical marijuana industries. Colorado’s tracking system is aimed at accounting for every eighth-ounce of marijuana produced in the state to ensure it isn’t diverted to the black market.
Some medical marijuana advocates opposed HB 1220. The opponents argued that patients often extract oils from marijuana plants to treat their conditions and that numerous plants are required to generate the oils. This issue helped facilitate a compromise in the bill.
“Any patient or caregiver who is registered with the local government can grow up to 24 plants at home,” said Rep. Becker. “That covers 92 percent of all patients and caregivers, and then those who need more than 24 plants can petition their local government for a variance or they can grow it in a non-residential setting.”
The bill permits towns and cities to limit the number of marijuana plants grown at home, or expand the statewide cap. If the local government hasn’t set a limit, patients and caregivers growing up to 24 plants must provide notice to that jurisdiction.
Violating this law would subject a person to a $1,000 fine for the first offense. Subsequent offenses would carry a misdemeanor penalty for an unregistered home-grow between 13 and 24 plants. Second or subsequent offenses for more than 24 plants would be a felony.
Having passed unanimously through the House and Senate, HB 1220 is headed to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk where it is likely to earn his signature. Once signed into law, it will be implemented at the beginning of 2018.