by Lisa Cyriacks

The Colorado House of Representatives just passed a measure that places a 16-plant count limit for cannabis plants grown at residential properties. The 16-plant per home limit would apply whether the cannabis is grown for medical or recreational purposes.  The bill will go on to the State Senate and then the Governor.

Saguache County Commissioner Jason Anderson say these rules, if adopted, would only apply where there is an absence of local regulation. Saguache County does have its own regulations. However, many areas in Colordado have not adopted their own regulations.

This legislative  issue is being debated in the uncertain climate caused by the Trump Administration indicating a crackdown on states with legal recreation use—states like Colorado.

Colorado state legislators cite the legislation limiting plant counts as part of an expanded effort to crack down on the “gray market” in which marijuana is grown legally but sold illegally.

Rules adopted by President Barack Obama’s administration allowed cannabis industries to operate safely in states where weed is legal, but there is no certainty under the Trump administration that will remain the case.

Four Congressional Representatives have formed the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus.  California Representative Dana Rohrabacher introduced The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act to exempt individuals and businesses from federal law as long as they comply with state cannabis law.

Recent raids in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Denver by the Drug Enforcement Administration have identified grow and out-of-state distribution rings operating in Colorado. A DEA officer indicated that the marijuana was being grown specifically for sale and distribution out of state.

The federal government considers marijuana use to be prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act. The State of Colorado has agreed to cooperate with the federal government to prevent:

• Distribution of marijuana to minors

• Transporting marijuana across state lines

• Drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences

• Growing marijuana on public land

• Marijuana possession or use on federal property

• Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation or distribution of marijuana

• Use of state-authorized marijuana activity as a cover or pretext for illegal activity including the trafficking of illegal drugs

• Diversion of marijuana to illegal markets

The new plant limits in House Bill 1220 were approved with bipartisan support, 55-10. If also approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, marijuana patients and caregivers can no longer grow more than 16 plants at home.

State law currently limits recreational plants to six per adults over the age of 21. Medical marijuana patients with larger plant counts would be forced to grow any plants exceeding the 16-count limit in industrial or agricultural areas. It also would allow local governments to impose further restrictions by ordinance. Saguache County regulations currently limit the number of plants per household to 12 regardless of the number of occupants over 21.

A companion bill, HB 17-1221 would create a marijuana enforcement grant program for local governments for law enforcement costs related to the gray and black marijuana market. Monies would be available for local law enforcement and district attorney’s office. The bill has also passed the House and is up for consideration by the Colorado Senate.

Saguache County approved marijuana regulations in December 2016. The County Commissioners and the Sheriff are in the process of hiring a code enforcement officer for that position.

Saguache County currently has licensed 14 cultivation sites. Only five are producing and paying the 5% excise tax approved by the voters in the November 2016 election. January 2017 marijuana wholesale revenues yielded $8,404 in excise tax revenue for Saguache County.

Statewide marijuana sales for 2016 were $1.3 million, exceeding 2015 sales by 30%. Colorado collected $108.9 million in marijuana taxes, licenses and fees.