In a June report, the DEA's Denver division compared residential marijuana grows in Colorado to "the meth houses of the 1990s" and warned about the potential threats and nuisances of home-growing operations. "Marijuana grows often cause extensive damage to the houses where they are maintained," states the report, which names house fires, mold, blown electrical transformers, strong odors and do-it-yourself ventilation as destructive potential by-products of home grows.
The report points to "loopholes" in Amendment 64 and Amendment 20, which legalized limited recreational marijuana sales and medical marijuana, respectively. Because a licensed caregiver can grow up to 99 plants for each of their patients, the DEA says, large-scale grow operations can be established in residential neighborhoods under "the guise of state law." According to the DEA, plant caps in Denver, Boulder and Douglas counties, among other places, are "widely varied and ineffectively enforced."
House fires and explosions in and around Denver attest to the potential for property damage associated with marijuana production. Last November, a duplex on South Logan Street in southeast Denver exploded in what the Denver Fire Department said was a "marijuana-related" incident. In March, overloaded electrical wiring caused a marijuana grow house to catch fire in Colorado Springs.
But according to the Denver Fire Department, many fires and explosions are caused by illegal growing operations and oil extractions that use butane and other prohibited flammables.
"In the initial phases of legalization, yes, we saw a lot of situations where electrical was not brought up to code and could present fire dangers. That's tapering off as we bring more people up to code," says a spokesperson for the department.
Taylor West, deputy director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, says that comparing residential grow operations in Colorado to meth houses is inaccurate. "It's a classic example of the misinformation and scare tactics that characterizes how the DEA has approached marijuana for decades," she says.
"It doesn’t benefit anyone to make absurd comparisons like that," West adds. "There are plenty of ways for marijuana growers and distributors to make real contributions to their communities and work with their communities, [and] the DEA’s ridiculous claims don’t facilitate those kinds of conversations.”
The DEA's report also criticizes "the permissiveness of Colorado's medical and recreational marijuana laws," which the agency says attracts traffickers who sell the marijuana they cultivate legally in Colorado to out-of-state markets. "Much of the marijuana produced in large home grows is shipped out of Colorado and sold in markets where it commands a high price," the report says.
But much out-of-state trafficking may not be related to legalization, according to a recent Colorado Department of Public Safety report. From June 2014 to August 2015, there were 166 seizures of marijuana intended for out-of-state sale.
"It is unknown whether that marijuana is coming from licensed businesses, caregivers, personal growers or the general black market, thus a conclusion that it is related to legalization of marijuana is premature," states the Department of Public Safety.
Still, the DEA predicts that the illegal trafficking and out-of-state sale of Colorado-grown marijuana will continue. "Colorado will continue to be a source for much of the marijuana destined for markets in other states," the DEA's report concludes.