Douglas County residents can no longer legally grow 99 marijuana plants in each household. The Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday, August 9, to reduce that number to twelve.
The new ordinance regulates the growth, cultivation and processing of marijuana in private residences, echoing ordinances passed in the City of Denver in late 2013 and the City of Boulder earlier this year.
“Just because marijuana is legal in Colorado, it does not mean that you should grow as much as you want, wherever you want,” said Chief Deputy Steve Johnson of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the sheriff’s office, a “loophole” in Amendment 24 and Amendment 60 allowed medical caregivers to legally grow in excess of 99 plants in a single residence — and some large-scale grows produced marijuana for illegal trafficking and out-of-state sale. “With this ordinance, we want to eliminate the desire of the individual to set up marijuana grows for profit under the ruse of medical or medical-caregiver growing,” Johnson said.
The sheriff's office received 45 complaints related to marijuana cultivation in 2015, up from 24 in 2014; in the first few months of this year, the office reported over twenty complaints. Some residents saw trucks parking at a house on their block in the middle of the night and driving away before dawn. Others noticed unusual electrical wiring threading into a home's basement. Some couldn't stand the smell.
In January of this year, jerry-rigged electrical wiring likely contributed to a fire at a home in Larkspur, according to a Larkspur resident who attended the hearing.
The ordinance, drafted partly in response to the Larkspur fire, limits grow operations to a fully enclosed and locked space of no more than 1,500 square feet, and prohibits the use of butane gas. It also requires renters to receive written permission from a landlord before beginning marijuana cultivation in a rental property. The grow cannot be perceptible to neighbors or passersby: no bright lights, no excessive or undue foot or car traffic, and no odor.
Several Douglas County residents spoke at the public hearing Tuesday. Many, like Becki Luciano of Larkspur, said they felt unsafe with marijuana growing operations in their neighborhood.
“I feared for my kids, my safety and our neighbors,” Luciano said. “I understand that there are medical needs that do need to be addressed with marijuana, but I don’t believe that (grows) should be in a neighborhood where there are children and elderly people.”
Other county residents objected to the effect that the new ordinance would have on medical growing operations and marijuana-related businesses. Eric Medina, a Castle Rock resident, said he believes a twelve-plant growing restriction will prevent medical marijuana patients from growing enough plants to produce the concentrate prescribed to treat some medical conditions. “Effectively, this is a prohibition on marijuana,” he said, noting that commercial marijuana production is already illegal in Douglas County.
Mark Scheuneman, who lives in Parker, suggested that outdoor growing or greenhouse growing, currently outlawed in Douglas County, would provide a solution to many of the problems cited in the ordinance. “What’s the problem with having it outside if it’s a fenced-in, controllable area and there’s no kids or animals that are going to get to it?” he asked.
County commissioners voted unanimously to enact the ordinance. “We have to find a balance for public safety,” Commissioner Dave Weaver said.
Now the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office will begin visiting grow sites that are illegal under the new county law. Johnson said deputies will work with growers and give them a reasonable time frame to reduce the number of plants at their residences.
Douglas County homeowners who do not comply can be charged with a class 2 petty offense and fined $1,000 per day for each separate violation of the ordinance.