Hemp: How an HOA ruling is forcing Jim Denny to give away all his plants

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Jim Denny has 7,500 square feet of hemp plants and a problem: His homeowners association has found that his plants are a violation of the HOA rules and has ordered him to "replace" them by the end of next week. The reason? The HOA board says that Denny failed to get approval for "landscaping modifications" to his lot and that his 75-foot-by-100-foot hemp plot is a home business in violation of the Todd Creek Farms HOA rules.

To comply with the board's findings, Denny is giving away his hemp plants (and in some instances, selling them for a small fee) to anyone who is registered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp.

So far, Denny says the response has been "overwhelming." The day after word got out, he says he received 59 phone calls and 27 e-mails from people who wanted his plants. He's had several people ask to take all of his plants and others offer to pay the fines his HOA would levy against him if he were to ignore the board's findings and keep growing.

But the 56-year-old Denny, who spent thirty years working as a software and systems test engineer before trying his hand at growing hemp, says he's not willing to push it that far. "It takes a lot out of you, having to fight with everybody and being in fear of putting your house in jeopardy," Denny says. He feels that sharing his story will be helpful. "My hope in discussing this is to help others down the road who are in a similar predicament to avoid it or to be a pioneer to say that HOAs can't push you around anymore."

Denny's story starts a few years ago, when he read an article about the campaign to legalize marijuana in Colorado. The article also mentioned hemp and explained how it was different from marijuana. For one, hemp contains little to none of the psychoactive ingredient THC, which is what makes a person feel high. And it has many uses: You can eat it, wear it, wash yourself with it and even build your house out of it.

Continue for more on Jim Denny's hemp plot. In November 2012, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana. It also paved the way for growing industrial hemp, which had been outlawed for decades and is still considered illegal by the federal government. This past spring, the Colorado Department of Agriculture opened registration to anyone wishing to grow hemp for commercial or research-and-development purposes.

Denny decided to give it a try using his land and seeds obtained by Erik Hunter, a hemp advocate and scientist (and one of the people profiled in our 2013 cover story, "Green Acres.") Because Denny is interested in eventually starting a business that would process Colorado hemp seeds into oil, he sought a commercial hemp-growing registration under his new business name, Mile High Hemp LLC.

Denny lives in Brighton, on a 1.75-acre parcel in a community called Todd Creek Farms. He's lived there for fourteen years and has used part of his property as a vegetable garden in the past. To prepare to plant hemp, he spent about $1,500 to install a sprinkler system and hire someone to spread manure. In May, he and Hunter hosted a planting party. Denny's plan was to use this year's crop to increase his seed stock -- and to sell some of the seeds at the end of the season in the hopes of breaking even. Obtaining seed, which cannot be legally imported to Colorado, is currently the biggest hurdle facing hemp farmers (and one that the state agriculture department is working to address). But Denny's HOA didn't like his plan -- or the fact that he didn't ask permission to carry it out. One day, he says, the HOA board president knocked on his door and asked why he was planning to grow marijuana on his property. Denny says he explained that it wasn't marijuana, but that was no comfort to the president. (Westword has contacted Denny's HOA and will update this post when and if we hear back.)

Continue for more on Jim Denny's hemp plot. The next day, the president returned with a notice saying that Denny had violated the HOA covenants. It accused him of not obtaining permission to make landscaping modifications and of advertising a home business that does not meet the HOA's guidelines. According to Denny, the advertisement that the notice was referring to was his registration paperwork from the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which he'd taped to his barn window in case any cops showed up with questions about his hemp garden.

The HOA board scheduled a hearing about Denny's alleged violations for June 17. Denny came prepared with a landscaping plan and several compromises: He told the board that he was planning to switch his hemp-growing registration from his business name to his own name "to avoid further confusion about this being a farming business" and that he no longer planned to sell the seeds but to instead press them into oil for his own use. He insisted that his hemp plot wasn't a commercial enterprise but was instead a "hobby garden" and he explained how hemp is different from marijuana.

The board issued its decision on June 26. It found that Denny's plot was indeed a business, "even if it is a small and unprofitable business." The difference between Denny's plot and an average vegetable garden, the board ruled, is that Denny is growing a single crop on a larger parcel of land than would be used for most gardens. "A smaller plot of Industrial Hemp that more closely resembles other gardens within Todd Creek Farms may be acceptable," the board's decision letter says. The board gave Denny fifteen days to remedy his violations -- or, in other words, to get rid of his hemp plot.

So that's what Denny is doing. He says his plants are now between six and eighteen inches high -- and he emphasizes that anyone seeking to buy a plant must be registered with the state to grow hemp. And they probably shouldn't live in a community with an HOA.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Hemp: New law lets farmers register year-round to grow crop."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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