New marijuana growing rules taking hold in Colorado by start of next year: what you need to know

DENVER – Colorado law enforcement and marijuana growers will have to make some adjustments regarding marijuana growing in the state over the next six months, as two new laws aimed at reducing illegal marijuana cultivation and dealing will take effect.

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two bills last week aimed directly at cutting down on high plant limits and reducing the flow of Colorado pot to other states—something law enforcement agencies say has become an increasing problem in recent years.

House Bill 1220 will cap the number of plants allowed for recreational users to only 12 per house or “residential property,” and will cap the number of plants for medical marijuana growers and caregivers at 24.

The law will allow local jurisdictions and municipalities to enact rules to allow growers to raise more plants than the statewide limit, however.

Denver, Colorado Springs, Douglas County, Carbondale and Lafayette were among the jurisdictions that had already capped the number of marijuana plants allowed to be grown on residential property at 12.

Colorado had been the only of dozens of states that have medical marijuana programs to allow patients or caregivers to grow more than 16 plants. The state allowed them to grow up to 99 based off a doctor’s recommendation.

House Bill 1220, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2018, will also allow district attorneys to charge people who break the new plant limit law.

A first offense involving more than 12 plants will be considered a level 1 drug petty offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

A second or subsequent offense involving between 12 and 24 plants will carry a level 1 drug misdemeanor charge, and a second or subsequent offense involving more than 24 plants will be considered a level 3 drug felony.

The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Cole Wist, R-Centennial and Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, said the bill will establish much-needed safeguards against illegal growing, which leads to a larger black market for Colorado pot.

And starting on July 1, state and local officials will start cracking down on illegal marijuana growers and distributors as a result of House Bill 1221, which Hickenlooper also signed last week.

The bill creates an enforcement grant program that will allow local jurisdictions to apply for grant money to fight illegal grows and distribution networks, with priority added to rural municipalities and counties with small budgets to do such work.

The bill defines “rural areas” as counties with fewer than 200,000 people and towns or cities with less than 30,000 people that is at least 10 miles away from a town or city with more than 50,000 people.

The grants will help small district attorney’s offices and agencies to cover the costs incurred by identifying and busting unlicensed grows.

The money for the grants would come from either the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund or the Proposition AA refund account. Under the bill, any money not dispersed through grants that is appropriated can be spent the next year without being re-appropriated.

The bill also mandates that beginning Nov. 1, 2019, the Division of Local Government would have to update to Senate and House committees on the program’s effectiveness. Subsequent updates would be required on or before Nov. 1 of each following year.

Around $5.94 million has already been appropriated to the Department of Local Affairs to enact the program starting July 1. Nearly all of the money will be used for the grant program, though $21,000 will cover the purchase of new IT services and around $4,700 will cover legal services.

The bill also allows the prosecution of anyone not in compliance with state caregiver guidelines to begin under the new law starting July 1.

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