(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Lawsuit targets Denver’s new 36-plant limit for collective pot grows

The new limit has drawn protests, in part because of the potential impact on medical marijuana caregivers who grow a large number of plants.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday takes aim at a fresh Denver ordinance that could shut down dozens of unlicensed nonresidential marijuana-growing collectives by limiting them to growing 36 plants.

The Denver City Council passed the measure 11-0 Monday night. It was proposed by Mayor Michael Hancock’s marijuana office, which says it’s attempting to address unsafe conditions in the unlicensed growing facilities and an “exponential increase” in the cultivation of untracked marijuana.

Hancock signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

But the new limit — which doesn’t apply to licensed commercial grow houses — has drawn protests, in part because of the potential impact on caregivers who grow a large number of plants.

The lawsuit was filed by Rebecca Cook, a Littleton woman who suffers from scoliosis. One of her attorneys, Matthew Buck, says that because of difficulties smoking pot, Cook uses tinctures to get the product into her system. Buck adds that extracting enough marijuana to create an ointment requires more than the 36-plant limit.

Cook currently has 65 plants, grown in a Denver warehouse by her husband and official caregiver. The recommendation for the 65 plants was provided by a licensed physician, per state law.

According to the lawsuit, Cook turned to marijuana after suffering a number of debilitating side effects from the use of opiates; Buck says the new law would force her back to that lifestyle.

“She has been in pain for 21 years and was taking cancer-patient levels of the opiates,” said Buck, who works in the law office of Robert Corry, an activist who has fought to expand marijuana rights. “In essence, they had turned her into a zombie.”

Denver city officials say more than 60 sites in Denver would be affected by the new plant limits. Some grow hundreds of marijuana plants or more and might have to shut down.

In Colorado, unlicensed grow houses exist in the cracks of voter-passed marijuana legalization amendments for both recreational and medical marijuana.

Colorado allows residents to grow six plants at home, or 12 per household, unless a doctor recommends more. But rules for collectives in industrial or commercial areas have been murkier.

City officials have said they can’t simply regulate the activity, since it isn’t allowed under state laws. Instead, they chose the 36-plant limit because it mirrors state rules allowing caregivers to grow six plants each for five patients and themselves.

Cook also filed a preliminary injunction against Hancock, stopping the implementation of the new law, saying it “clearly violates the Colorado Constitution. The City and County of Denver plainly lacks the authority to override the Constitution of the State of Colorado.”

Attempts to reach Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Jon Murray: 303-954-1405, jmurray@denverpost.com or twitter.com/JonMurray

This story was first published on DenverPost.com