A Colorado medical marijuana grower tends plants in a rented local warehouse. (Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Colorado is right to question excessive medical marijuana plant counts

Denver Post editorial: Sanctioning a single patient to grow 75 plants deserves extra scrutiny because of black-market temptation and public perception of Colorado's liberal marijuana laws

It would be impossible to argue these days in Colorado that patients who use medical marijuana aren’t getting a pretty good deal.

As in the earliest days of legalization, most Coloradans are comfortable giving patients or their caregivers the right to grow several plants. For years now, dispensaries catering to patients have been plentiful, as are a variety of products intended to address particular ailments and issues. And the state doesn’t collect a sin tax on medical marijuana patients.

So it strikes us as unreasonable and irresponsible to believe that a single patient would need access to 75 cannabis plants or more at any one time.

No wonder, then, the state Medical Board last week took action against four doctors who officials say recommended grows of at least 75 plants to more than 1,500 patients. As The Denver Post’s John Ingold reports, it’s the first time the board has taken action against doctors for allegedly over-recommending grows of this size, though we wonder why.

Yes, the state acted too hastily in suspending the doctors without due process. A judge on Friday temporarily blocked the suspensions of the doctors’ licenses. Denver District Court Judge Ross Buchanan wisely noted that if the punishments are the first of their kind, the doctors in question should have had time to defend themselves against the claims.

But to the larger point: Why so much weed? Some patients and their advocates argue that using marijuana over time leads to greater tolerance levels, and some kinds of delivery systems for THC and cannabinoids — like edibles, oils and concentrates — require far more of the devil’s lettuce to make than what you would roll up in a joint or pack in a pipe or vaporizer.

Marijuana harvests are conducted every three to four months, depending on the strain, and industry experts peg the retail value of a single plant at about $1,000. We might not be medical professionals, but we find it unimaginable that a single patient could have such a tolerance or such complicated cooking processes to necessitate the retail equivalent of $225,000 to $300,000 worth of dope a year.

We’d also be dopes to believe that no one with that amount of marijuana would ever be tempted to engage in black-market or underground sales.

The apparent abuse might not appear great as a percentage of the whole. The bulk of the more than 106,000 licensed medical marijuana patients in Colorado — 86 percent — are recommended to grow the six plants we’ve come to consider as normal under the law. But the potential for black-market temptation is significant, and all the more so if you drill down into the larger picture of grow recommendations. State records current through the end of May show that 478 patients have recommendations for more than 75 plants. Another 1,324 patients have permission to grow between 50 to 75 plants. More than 2,200 have been recommended to grow between 26 and 50 plants.

The state is correct to worry about excessive grows. Its laws are more than liberal toward marijuana users, and the risk to harming the public’s good will that exists if thousands of people are allowed to privately grow large numbers of plants is too great.

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This story was first published on DenverPost.com