Marijuana grows lead to boy shooting himself, baby overdosing on THC -- and North Metro Task Force commander expects more kids to be hurt

On Friday, Commander Jerry Peters of the North Metro Task Force shared details about busts at two Broomfield-area marijuana grows -- and he noted that 23 other cases were being actively investigated.

Mere days later, the task force is back in the news thanks to a pair of marijuana-related cases in which children were injured -- an eleven-year-old boy shot himself in the foot, presumably while guarding mom and dad's grow, while a ten-month old was hospitalized after eating marijuana edibles.

In both instances, the owners claimed that they were cultivating marijuana for medical purposes -- but Peters doesn't think either grow was legal under Amendment 20 guidelines. And as marijuana becomes more accessible in Colorado, he expects more kids to get hurt.

Here's Peters's account of the first situation:

"What happened is, the county sheriff and the Thornton Police Department got a call to an address on 150th Avenue about a gunshot wound. I don't know for sure who called -- I think it was the child. And when the officers got there, a vehicle was pulling out. Mom and dad had both returned home and saw that the kid, who's eleven, had shot himself, and they were taking him to the hospital.

"The investigation revealed that the child had been left alone at the house at night, because the dad and his younger sister, who's nine, went to pick up mom at work. Now, the dad is a hunter, along with the son; they were out hunting earlier in the week. Dad had put one gun in the gun safe next to the marijuana grow, but another gun, a shotgun, had been left outside the safe, and he'd left a .22, which he claims is his son's gun, on the kitchen counter. It was left out for the son, apparently for protection while they were gone. We don't know if it was protection for the son or protection of the marijuana crops, which is our suspicion. Dad says he's a patient and caregiver, and he's got roughly thirty plants in his basement that are open and accessible to both kids. But he didn't have any paperwork to satisfy our feelings that he was a legitimate caregiver.

"Sometime during the night, the eleven-year old gets scared and picks up the handgun. We don't know if he drops it and shoots himself or if something else happened, but he ended up shooting himself in the right foot, leaving blood trails everywhere. And that sparked the 911 call."

No arrests have been made in the case, but one's on the way, probably within hours.

"We could have charged the dad that night," Peters says. "He knows he's going to be arrested, but he was on the way to the hospital to see his son, and we know where he lives. So we're probably going to charge him this morning with cultivation of marijuana and child abuse."

Story two took place in Commerce City. Peters tells the tale like so:

"On Sunday night, the parents of ten-month old twins [Arturo Torres and Jessica Bacerra, who've been charged with child abuse and illegal cultivation of marijuana] don't know where or how, but somehow, one of the twins got into their edible stash. He became very lethargic, very sleepy, and it concerned the parents -- but they still took the child to a babysitter and then went to watch a movie. They later picked up the baby from the babysitter and brought him home, but, to quote the dad, he 'didn't look right.' They became more concerned because of how lethargic and sleepy he was. So they took him to Children's Hospital, and it was there they found he had suffered from an overdose of THC.

"Children's called social services, as they're mandated to do, as well as the Commerce City Police Department. Then, early yesterday morning, social services went over there to remove the other ten-month old from the house; police were there doing a standby. Now, at that point, they didn't know there was a marijuana grow -- but they took dad into custody for child abuse for allowing the child to ingest marijuana. And they subsequently found a marijuana grow in a back shed -- and that's when they called the task force.

"We went over there and found about thirty marijuana plants and a whole tub of edibles, including some that almost looked like trail mix. The house was clean when we got there, and there was no indication that everything had been out, but it's highly unlikely that a ten-month-old child was out in the shed. So we believe some of it was in the house.

"And another thing that concerns us about this house was the wiring. There was an additional grow in the cellar-basement area accessible from the outside, and they had all kinds of conduits and wires drilled into the breaker system to override the electrical outlet and run wiring out into the shed. It was a fire waiting to happen. On top of allowing the child to ingest marijuana, it was also a fire hazard."

Cases like these have become more common, Peters says, and he expects that trend to continue for a variety of reasons.

"One factor is accessibility," he says. "It's very accessible to kids with people growing marijuana in locations where they're also raising they're children. They're allowing kids to go into their marijuana grows. In these cases, one was guarding it and the other was eating it. And there's this feeling that it's all right to smoke in front of your kids, all right to grow it in front of your kids, and with your kids. And that leads to kids seeing it as acceptable.

"That's why we're starting to see more and more problems at schools. In some parts of the state, we've seen a 30 percent increase of marijuana arrests in high schools over last year, and I think that's because we in society, at least in Colorado, suddenly feel it's acceptable to make money off marijuana. And that leads into our upcoming debate about allowing dispensaries and getting away from the true intent of Amendment 20, where we're going to have dispensaries on every corner. Boulder's going to debate that tonight, and we have the state legislature trying to regulate an illegal industry. And all of that sends the wrong message to children. I have kids in middle school, and I talk to them every day about the hazards of marijuana. But with everything going on, it's hard to send the right message about drugs, and how, whether they're prescription drugs or marijuana, they're bad, bad choices."

At this point, Peters sees comparisons between the rise of marijuana and the earlier methamphetamine boom. Just like then, "things are happening that are jeopardizing children in those places. And what's going to happen next is, you're going to start seeing more fires. I've heard that out in California, one in twenty fires are caused by marijuana grows, and you're going to start seeing more of that here with extraction labs and people making hash oil. And we'll see a lot more aggravated assaults, a lot more burglaries and a lot more people driving under the influence. You'd have to with 40,000 new card-carrying patients out there. We've even had kids trying to get patient cards, so they can smoke at school."

Not that homes that double as large marijuana grows are any safer, in Peters's estimation.

"The environment is dangerous, with all the pesticides and so forth," he says. "And they're compounding it by putting up booby traps, arming themselves, arming their children to guard these places. It's ridiculous."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts