Southern Colorado’s Dilemma Under Amendment 20
BY Randy Robinson
Medical cannabis patients in Colorado enjoy certain rights. One of those is the right to grow six plants. Having six plants ensures that the patient can cultivate three separate strains in veg and in cure at the same time. Upon a doctor’s recommendation, that plant count can be increased to any number the doctor deems appropriate.
Under Amendment 64, which passed 12 years after Amendment 20, any adult living in Colorado can grow six plants. That means a registered medical patient in Colorado can, by their state’s rights, grow up to 12 cannabis plants by combining the minimum counts from Amendments 64 and 20.
Patients may assign their plant counts to a caregiver, and a caregiver can grow up to 99 plants at a time. Caregivers, who are not considered business entities, often grow their patient’s plants inside of a residence.
In May, Colorado Springs City Council approved an ordinance limiting all home grows to 12 plants. This 12-plant cap applies to each housing unit, regardless of how many individuals or registered medical patients reside in the home.
The problem with this plant count cap has to do with Colorado Springs’s demographics. El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, has the largest concentration of card-carrying medical cannabis patients in the world.
No other county in the U.S. has this many patients, estimated at just over 18,000 individuals, due to the area’s popularity as a medical marijuana refuge. The Realm of Caring, a dispensary in Colorado Springs that makes cannabis oil, became nationally famous after appearing on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Weed documentary.
El Paso County’s rents tend to be lower than Denver’s, too, yet there’s nearly as many dispensaries in Colorado Springs as there are in Denver. When considering that many medical refugee families struggle income-wise, Colorado Springs becomes an ideal place to relocate.
It wasn’t always this way. Ever since 2000, when Coloradans voted Amendment 20 into law, patients in Colorado Springs were largely left alone so long as they followed the law.
But things changed after 2014, when Mayor John Suthers took office. To most of his constituents, he’s a hometown hero.
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Suthers went on to a successful career in law and politics before returning to his birth city as its mayor.
To cannabis activists, they remember a different Suthers. They remember Suthers as an anti-pot crusader, who created countless legal hurdles for patients and their caregivers while he served as Attorney General of Colorado. They remember him as the man who passionately argued that Coloradans held no rights to produce their own cannabis oil due to a comma placement in Amendment 64.
They also remember him as the attorney general that denied compensation to patients whose crops were unjustifiably destroyed by law enforcement. One of those appeals is currently awaiting review at the Colorado Supreme Court.
Although the mayor’s office and city council are two separate groups, Suthers voiced his support for the council’s decisions. So far the council has almost always ruled against medical patients.
According to the mayor’s office, the last two years’ worth of anti-patient ordinances were meant to curb black market sales of cannabis. These include bans on medical cannabis clubs, bans on the home production of cannabis oil, and a veritable blockade against new dispensary and grow licenses. They argue that because home grows don’t have to register with the state, and because Amendment 20 protects the confidentiality of all cannabis patients, law enforcement can’t monitor a home grow’s operations.
“AS LONG AS THIS BAN DOESN’T GET TESTED IN COURT, AND WE DON’T SET A PRECEDENT, CANNABIS PATIENT RIGHTS CONTINUE TO GET PERSECUTED.”
That lack of monitoring makes a home grow a good spot for an illegal grow operation. The plant count caps and other cannabis ordinances, supposedly, target cartels and not patients.
“If you look at who is being busted in Pueblo and who will be busted in Colorado Springs over the summer, you can tell: These are organized crime,” Suthers told The Gazette. “A lot of them are Cubans coming up from Central America, and they’re buying or leasing homes, making huge amounts of money (and) trashing the homes.”
Along with property damage, smell complaints from neighbors were another reason for limiting plant counts.
According to Matt Fox, the plant-count ordinance is unnecessary. Fox lives in Colorado Springs, where he acts as director of Show Me Kindness, a cannabis patients advocacy group. He’s also a co-founder of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, an international watchdog group that keeps tabs on legal cannabis companies.
Fox said many severely-ill patients he knew were moving to nearby Pueblo because of the city’s higher count limit, 18 plants. According to him, a cap closer to 24 plants would better guarantee that these patients had plenty of medicine on-hand at all times. Fox added that the plant caps were “unfortunate,” because laws already exist to address many of the legislators’ concerns.
“You can’t have significant odor coming from your domicile in a city area,” Fox said regarding the smells that waft from home grows. “There’s laws against that. Just like you can’t have grass on your lawn that’s over a couple feet tall. There’s building codes for wiring, and if you try to run 10,000 watts worth of lights off of a 100-amp circuit, that’s against code. That’s a zoning violation.”
Fox remained unconvinced that the new laws were designed to stop the black market. He believed an upcoming election season was the main motivator for the ordinance. “These laws don’t seem to really be effective at shutting down illegal grows,” he said, noting that black market cannabis growers were operating in Colorado long before legalization. “These laws are effective at making our elected officials look like they’re ‘tough on pot.’ Saying you can’t have more than twelve plants isn’t going to dissuade the people already profiting from continuing to do so.”
A Statewide Quagmire
Under Amendment 64, restrictions regarding home grows fall under local jurisdiction. Landlords often include lease clauses that specifically prohibit cannabis cultivation on their properties. City governments can restrict access to cannabis however they see fit, so long as those restrictions don’t violate the state constitution. Denver, for example, limits home grows to 36 plants. Aurora limits to 12. Pueblo recently enacted an 18-plant cap.
Colorado Springs authorities claim their 12-plant ban extends to all homes, including the homes of medical patients. A challenge to this ordinance could make its way up to the Colorado State Supreme Court, as many other landmark cannabis cases have. There’s also the possibility that a new Colorado Springs City Council, up for election in 2017, may overturn or modify the current ordinances.
Cannabis oil stands as the most effective, most potent way to deliver phytocannabinoids to our bodies. For some seeking supplemental treatment for cancer, HIV, seizure disorders, digestive issues, or severe pain, sometimes cannabis oil is the only way to go.
If you’ve made your own oil for medicine, you know how much plant material you need to make a sufficient amount of oil. Using rough estimates, we get roughly 60 grams of oil from a few pounds of plant material. Given that most cannabis plants produce only an ounce or so of cured buds, that means we need a lot of plants.
Even medical patients who smoke flower or pressed hash may require more than just a few plants per harvest cycle. Regulations that limit a patient’s access to proper plant counts can seriously compromise that patient’s ability to function.