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Denver Police: Growing Marijuana in Your Back Yard Still Illegal

Growing cannabis at home comes with a strict set of rules in Colorado.EXPAND
Growing cannabis at home comes with a strict set of rules in Colorado.
Kate McKee Simmons
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Denver may have experienced its last winter storm of the year this week, and the Denver Police Department wants to remind gardeners about the city's restrictions regarding growing cannabis at home.

While nothing has changed about Denver's cannabis home-growing rules, according to DPD Commander James Henning, he and his staff think that a lack of understanding of those rules is the largest reason for illegal home grows.

"One issue that has persisted has been home grows," he said during a press event at the Denver Police Crime Lab on May 9. "When we go to these locations, a lot of times they simply just don't know the law."

Denver allows residents 21 and up and medical marijuana patients eighteen and up to grow six cannabis plants. If a household has more than one adult who's at least 21, then the maximum plant count for that residence goes up to twelve, but only half of those plants can be in their blooming stages.

Most of the DPD's concerns concern outdoor cultivations, however. According to Henning and Department of Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy, one of the most common misconceptions about growing cannabis in Denver is that you can do it in your own back yard as long as the yard is fenced and the gate locked. But in fact, outdoor grows must be enclosed in a structure such as a greenhouse, and that must be locked.

"With spring here and all this great water we're seeing today, people are excited to get out and garden...but do not grow marijuana," Kilroy said. "We live in a dense urban environment, and our homes and back yards are close to each other."

Denver Department of Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy and police commander James Henning speak about current home-growing laws at the Denver Police Crime Lab on May 9.
Denver Department of Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy and police commander James Henning speak about current home-growing laws at the Denver Police Crime Lab on May 9.
Thomas Mitchell

The DPD investigated nearly 260 home-growing operations in 2017, according to Henning, but that number fell to around 130 incidents in 2018, with no violence. He added that there was also a drop in large-scale grows, explaining that the days of illegal operations with 200 to 300 plants are dwindling.

"In 2016, we had violence surrounding these home grows — we actually had a couple homicides," he said. "I'd like there to be zero [incidents] next year."

Two teens were shot by Keith Hammock in 2016, after the boys tried to rob an illegal cannabis growing operation in his back yard. One of them later died, and Hammock was sentenced to eighty years in prison.

Backyard growing operations can also put your homeowner status at risk; failing to follow the rules with a pot grow can be considered a public nuisance in Denver, and that can end up with the city placing a lien against your home. Just ask the Washington Park couple who thought they were growing four cannabis plants legally in their back yard and ended up with a lien against their home from the city and the threat of random police searches over the next two and a half years or so.

With the recent decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms and the federal government's yet-to-be-implemented legalization of hemp, marijuana won't be the only new home-growing operations that Denver police are dealing with in the future. Henning says his department has been talking with the Denver City Attorney's Office to learn more about addressing those issues if and when they arise.

In the meantime, they want to be sure that this city's gardens don't go to pot.

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