Crack­down on home pot

Colorado ramps up e≠orts against marijuana black mar­ket

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Kris­ten Wy­att

Hop­ing to pre­serve its marijuana law un­der the next pres­i­dent, Colorado is plan­ning a slate of leg­is­la­tion de­signed to crack down on pot that is grown legally but then sold on the black mar­ket.

The goal is to cut down on com­plaints that Colorado’s lib­eral al­lowances for grow­ing pot with­out a li­cense has cre­ated a thriv­ing net­work of il­le­gal grow­ers. Colorado al­lows med­i­cal pot pa­tients to grow up to 99 plants, far be­yond other marijuana states, and it also al­lows recre­ational users to group their al­lot­ted six plants into mas­sive co-ops, en­tire green­houses of pot that aren’t tracked or taxed.

Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper says the state’s gen­er­ous pot al­lowances make it al­most im­pos­si­ble for cops to tell le­git­i­mate grow­ers from black-mar­ket fronts, and he is call­ing for a sev­eral new laws to crack down. Pro­pos­als in­clude a ban on group recre­ational pot grows and new pa­per­work re­quire­ments for peo­ple who grow med­i­cal pot.

With un­cer­tainty loom­ing about how the next pres­i­dent will ap­proach marijuana, Colorado reg­u­la­tors say it’s time to ramp up ef­forts to crush the black mar­ket and show the feds that Colorado isn’t let­ting weed seep into other states.

“We do need to clean up this sys­tem and make sure we’re be­yond re­proach for how well we’re reg­u­lat­ing marijuana,” said Andrew Freed­man, the gover­nor’s marijuana co­or­di­na­tor.

Colorado has been sued by two neigh­bor­ing states, Nebraska and Ok­la­homa, for al­legedly not keep­ing marijuana within its own bor­ders. That law­suit was dis­missed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but neigh­bor­ing states con­tinue to gripe that Colorado’s friendly re­minders at air­ports and in­ter­state high­ways aren’t suf­fi­cient to keep marijuana out of their states.

Freed­man points to six large crim­i­nal raids in the last two years as ev­i­dence that black mar­ket pot deal­ers are ex­ploit­ing the state. The most re­cent case hap­pened this fall, when fed­eral agents and lo­cal law en­force­ment si­mul­ta­ne­ously raided a dozen homes in south­east Colorado, seiz­ing 22,400 pounds of marijuana. In­ves­ti­ga­tors say that weed was in­tended to be taken out of state.

“We’re hear­ing from fed­eral of­fi­cials, ‘Hey, lis­ten, this is a con­cern,’ ” Freed­man said.

The gover­nor’s plans, out­lined to law­mak­ers in ad­vance of the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, in­clude a statewide 12-plant limit in pri­vate homes, which is still more gen­er­ous than other marijuana states such as Cal­i­for­nia (six plants) and Wash­ing­ton (four plants be­fore hav­ing to regis­ter with the state).

Some of Colorado’s largest ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing Den­ver and Colorado Springs, al­ready have those 12-plant lim­its through lo­cal or­di­nances. So it’s not clear how many peo­ple would be af­fected by the new limit.

The gover­nor also wants law­mak­ers to ban col­lec­tive recre­ational grows and to re­quire care­givers to keep track of their plants and where they go.

But Colorado has tried crack­ing down on marijuana care­givers be­fore, with lim­ited suc­cess. Colorado’s pot laws are in the state con­sti­tu­tion, so res­i­dents lit­er­ally have con­sti­tu­tional rights to high plant counts and to des­ig­nate oth­ers to grow plants for them.

Hick­en­looper’s plans are al­ready run­ning into sharp crit­i­cism from marijuana ac­tivists who say Colorado is sim­ply try­ing to boost taxes by mak­ing it in­creas­ingly hard to grow pot in­stead of buy­ing it from the store.

“They’re try­ing to do the best they can to drive ev­ery­one into the taxed model,” said Ja­son Warf, head of the South­ern Colorado Cannabis Coun­cil, which rep­re­sents pot re­tail­ers, pa­tients and care­givers who grow pot for sick peo­ple.

Some lim­its on care­givers have al­ready been ap­proved. Start­ing in Jan­uary, care­givers will need to regis­ter with the state, a re­ac­tion to law en­force­ment com­plaints that they have no way of know­ing whether a pot grower is ac­tu­ally grow­ing for le­git­i­mate pa­tients.

Teri Rob­nett, head of the Cannabis Pa­tients Al­liance, called on Colorado to wait for the al­ready-in-the­works lim­its to take ef­fect be­fore pass­ing more reg­u­la­tions.

“We con­tinue to re­strict and re­strict and not see how any­thing is work­ing,” Rob­nett said.

Marijuana plants fill a room in a Pue­blo home.

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