Marijuana home grows danger study not timed to hurt Amendment 64, pot opponent says

On Monday, before Amendment 64's proponents lost a court case over excised Blue Book language, and prior to Governor John Hickenlooper announcing his opposition to the measure, law enforcement officials held a press conference touting a study about the dangers of marijuana grows. Was the latter part of a coordinated campaign to undermine the measure? A study backer says no.

"We actually wanted to release it as early as we could, because it's a safety issue for the cops," says Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. "But the report wasn't finalized until relatively recently."

This isn't the first time Gorman's been asked such questions. In August, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA released another much-ballyhooed pot report, this one presenting evidence that Colorado medical marijuana is being illegally diverted. But he laughs when asked if we should expect another damning study prior to the election.

"I generally know what's going on, and I haven't heard of another one coming out -- so you can tell the other side to relax," he says.

However, he adds this caveat: "There may be a big raid or something like that, which I can't control."

Whether other officials can is another issue raised of late -- specifically in the wake of the Silver Lizard dispensary bust in August, handled by the Colorado Attorney General's office occupied by vocal MMJ and pot opponent John Suthers.

Regarding the marijuana-grows study, our William Breathes was critical of it. He notes that the analyzed grows were all identified by police, suggesting that cops may have chosen particularly horrific examples to bolster their point. Likewise, he regards comments equating marijuana grows and meth houses to be exaggerated and hysterical.

Gorman takes on these arguments one by one.

Continue to read Tom Gorman's responses, as well as the marijuana grow study. First, the grows selected for analysis.

"We have to be able to legally get into a place," Gorman says. "So the cops went about their normal business when they had a grow they could legally go into. But we couldn't select the houses. The houses were randomly picked."

Regarding the marijuana grow v. meth house topic, Gorman says, "I don't think the doctor" -- National Jewish Health's Dr. John Martyny -- "equated them. He did say he'd done a similar study on meth houses that resulted in officers putting on safety gear when they went into a meth house, and they recommended that they do the same thing when they went into marijuana grow houses. So there was that similarity. He said, 'We're recommending you use the same kind of protection,' but much more so in a meth house than a marijuana grow."

Still, the health concerns associated with marijuana grows -- particularly as they relate to mold -- are still serious, he stresses. "Obviously, our concern is not only for our officers, but also for the kids who are in these grow operations -- and out of the thirty that we looked at, twenty of them dealt with medical-marijuana card-holders. These people need to realize it's dangerous and they can't have kids in these places." If a patient is going to grow marijuana, he adds, "take all the precautions and protect the kids, because they're innocent."

Comments like these dominated the Monday press conference, but Amendment 64 was mentioned rarely, with the main reference coming from Stan Hilkey, Mesa County Sheriff and president of the County Sheriffs of Colorado association. In his words, "I'm having a very big déjà vu moment: We've been through this before with meth labs a decade ago. In this case, though, we are talking about situations where this is going to be -- especially if Amendment 64 passes -- a constitutional right for people to do."

Still, Gorman says, this allusion shouldn't be interpreted as proof that the announcements of the two recent studies were scheduled in the hope of doing maximum damage to the measure. "The one about the diversion of medical marijuana in August, if it was really a 64 thing, we would have done it the first part of October," Gorman allows. "People think it was that way, but it really wasn't."

Here's the complete study:

Health Effects Associated With Indoor Marijuana Grow Operations

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana grows: Bad-as-meth-labs study based on clown science?"

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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