DENVER -- The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is comparing Colorado grow houses in residential neighborhoods to meth houses of the 90s.
The report states that there are hundreds of homes hidden in residential neighborhoods, and that since 2014 "there has been a noticeable increase in organized networks of sophisticated residential grows in Colorado that are orchestrated and operated by drug trafficking organizations."
Todd Reeves, Commander of the North Metro Task Force, has seen the problem first-hand.
"These grow houses are extremely dangerous," said Reeves, whose task force had uncovered more than 100 illegal grow houses in residential neighborhoods already this year. "The reality is, as a task force, we’re dealing with this if not weekly, bi-weekly. And it’s just a matter of time before we start to see more deaths and things related to these types of activities."
Reeves said he has seen grow homes covered in mold, dangerous chemicals being used to fertilize plants, and hash oil explosions that could have been deadly.
Reeves pointed to a Thornton home that was condemned last week, after a marijuana grow house caught fire.
"They had been stealing power and the system overheated and caught fire," said Reeves. "It was only because of the quick response of the fire department that they were able to stop it from spreading to other houses."
Some neighborhoods are fighting back.
In Parker, when R.J. O'Connor caught wind of a major grow home in his subdivision, he took action as president of the HOA board.
"You could come within a block, block-and-a-half, of the house and the odor was so bad that it was almost nauseating. It was really really strong," said O'Connor, who teamed up with the town code enforcement to levy fines against the owner based on the HOA covenants.
Eventually, the homeowner kicked out the tenants and got rid of the grow house, O'Connor said.
"I think the State of Colorado and our politicians have done a big disservice to the people of this state," said O'Connor. "I don’t know if this genie can be put back in the bottle."
Often, Reeves said, law enforcement's hands are tied because of loopholes in the law.
The DEA report predicts more problems with drug trafficking in the future, stating "the proliferation of large residential grows is taxing local police and fire departments, consuming power and water resources, and potentially affecting home values in communities throughout the state."
The Marijuana Advocacy Group NORML criticized the DEA's report, releasing this statement:
“The DEA’s ‘Flat Earth’ position toward marijuana lacks credibility and is out of step with public and scientific consensus. At a time when more and more Americans are seeking evidence-based alternatives to marijuana criminalization, the DEA continues to rely on sensational and ineffective scare-tactics that contribute nothing productive to this ongoing, important nationwide narrative.”
“Further, it may be argued that unregulated grow operations will become less prevalent under marijuana regulation, since cultivators of larger grows will be able to engage in legally regulated, commercial endeavors and because consumers will be able to legally purchase products at retail facilities. Sure, a small minority of beer connoisseurs choose to brew their own beer at home, but no commercial outlets do, and most consumers choose to simply purchase the product at retail. Just as few people make or drink moonshine in a legally regulated alcohol market, the same principle applies to marijuana. The DEA’s position of keeping cannabis illicit and unregulated only perpetuates the problem they say they are trying to prevent.”