Denver City Council Approves 36-Plant Limit on Unregulated Pot Grows

The Denver City Council approved a plant limitation on non-licensed marijuana grows Monday night that could force many cultivating operations within city limits to shut down.

A 36-plant limit in non-residential zone lots was approved 11-0 — meaning any recreational co-op or medical marijuana caregiver over the mark will have to either shut down or scale back. The measure, which was introduced to the Denver Department of Safety and Well-Being on March 4, didn't take long to pass through the ranks of the city's local government thanks to concern over safety issues and illegal sales stemming from non-licensed growing warehouses. 

The Denver Fire Department and its head of marijuana policy, Ashley Kilroy, claim some of the unlicensed growing operations they've come across have multiple zoning hazards — including blocked exits, faulty electricity and mold exposure. Non-licensed growing warehouses aren't required to register with the state, so any safety inspections only occur if someone alerts the city or the growers ask for one themselves. 

Here's part of the city's reasoning, as seen in an excerpt from the bill:
...This gap in regulation has resulted in a proliferation of large-scale, non-licensed and unregulated marijuana grow operations that present significant health and public safety concerns with multiple and persistent violations of city building, electrical, fire, and environmental safety regulations; and whereas, the marijuana produced by these large-scale, unregulated cultivation operations cannot be tracked, making it virtually impossible to verify that this marijuana is distributed in accordance with all applicable laws. 
These safety issues, coupled with the retail pot industry's call for action against black-market sales, have caused an increase in local legislation medical marijuana advocates say is aimed at squeezing out the caregiver system Colorado's pot industry was founded on. Because no more than 36 plants can now be grown per each 3,000 square foot lot, caregivers with multiple patients and extended plant counts may either have to leave town or risk losing their patients. 

Many medical marijuana caregivers and their patients have been vocally against the new measure, as well as SB 15-014, a bill requiring all caregivers to register with the state. One Denver caregiver voiced his displeasure in a letter sent to the City Council. It reads in part:
For the last five years I have poured time, money and energy into complying to the building codes and proper zone permitting that is necessary to get the Certificate of Occupancy for F1 Marijuana growing. My small caregiving operation services patients with high quality medicinal oils and other personal benefits that comply with the statutes under the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services. I would like to state that I do believe that Denver city regulations need to be strengthened so that there is more oversight over any safety or legal concerns. Unfortunately by limiting caregivers to 36 plants that would effectively crush the medicinal market. 
You can read his full letter and two others from MMJ patients below.

The change also affects those in Denver taking advantage of the loophole in recreational plant counts. Although there is a twelve-plant limit in Denver residential grows (up to six for each adult), there previously were none for non-residential operations. If John Doe wanted to grow six plants for himself and six plants for each of hundreds of  "friends" 21-and-older, he could legally do so as long as no pot was sold and the lot wasn't residential.

Many local dispensary owners and cannabis cultivators view this approach as bleeding the regulated industry they've worked to legitimize. Although Amendment 64 was partly created in the hope of diminishing pot's black market, unregulated grows can potentially provide tax-free, untested cannabis products in direct competition with licensed retail businesses.

Now that Colorado's biggest hub for legal pot just drastically cut the amount of unregulated marijuana grown within its city limits, count this as a score for the industry and a loss for gray market dealers — though many innocent caregivers and patients may have been caught in the crossfire.

Here are the aforementioned letters.

Caregiver Letter

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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell