PARKER — This fast-growing town deep in the suburbs could become the latest of several Colorado communities to clamp down on marijuana home grows, notably by limiting the number of cultivated plants to a dozen per household.
The Parker Town Council on Monday gave initial approval to a pair of ordinances that would put in place the 12-plant restriction, regardless of whether the cannabis is grown for recreational or medical purposes.
The town points to “large-scale cultivation of marijuana for medical use in town residences,” spurring nuisance complaints, odor claims and the discovery of “illegal modifications to electrical and ventilation systems and the illegal storage of chemicals” in homes, according to a town staff report.
The council is scheduled to cast a final vote on the measures Oct. 3.
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But before it does, a lawsuit challenging Colorado Springs’ 12-plant cap, passed in May, is likely to be filed in court in a case cannabis attorney Rob Corry said could be “precedent setting” statewide.
The lawsuit, with a half dozen caregivers and cannabis patients as plaintiffs, will attack the cap as a violation of two constitutional amendments passed by voters — Amendment 20 in 2000 (medical) and Amendment 64 in 2012 (recreational) — each of which gives adults the right to have six marijuana plants at a time. Corry said litigation also could be filed against other communities that have adopted the limit.
A 12-plant limit per household means that a third adult living in a house would be deprived of the right to harvest what state law allows, said Teri Robnett, executive director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance.
“So who has to give up their constitutional right?” Robnett asked. “This completely interferes with the access to medicine patients need.”
Parker’s measures, if approved next month, would follow in the footsteps of Douglas County, which passed a residential grow ordinance last month that places a limit of 12 plants per household on “any person, including but not limited to patients, primary caregivers or persons for personal use.” The county’s ordinance also prohibits the use of compressed flammable gas, such as butane, in growing pot.
Denver also has a 12-plant per household limit on its books.
Robnett said it’s a movement that is picking up momentum among municipalities and needs to be stopped. Cities, towns and counties should use their existing laws and codes to control odor and nuisance issues rather than restricting a constitutional right.
“I think it’s a terrible trend,” she said.
But Elise Pennington, a spokeswoman for Parker, said the town has received approximately a dozen complaints from residents about out-of-control grows, more than half of which have resulted in operations being shut down for code violations and possible fire and health hazards.
“These violations create significant public safety issues for both the occupants of these residences, as well as their neighbors,” she said. “Residential homes were not designed for large-scale grow operations. Parker’s ordinances are intended to ensure that marijuana is cultivated in a safe manner that adheres to Parker’s laws and keeps our residents safe.”
Last month, Douglas County felt it had to take steps to combat a growing private pot cultivation problem. A house fire in the Larkspur area that was blamed on a grow operation coupled with increasing complaints from neighbors about odor and “U-Hauls leaving in the middle of the night with marijuana” prompted the commissioners to take action, said deputy county attorney Kelly Dunnaway.
“The public safety issue is really driving this thing,” he said.
Dunnaway said the new restrictions “strike a balance” between maintaining public safety and protecting the rights of cannabis users.
“The amount of marijuana you can produce from 12 plants is a tremendous amount of marijuana,” he said.
But Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, said what a patient needs in terms of medicine is not the government’s business.
“It comes down to the doctor-patient relationship,” Warf said.
Cancer patients or those who suffer from epilepsy often need high concentrations of the drug to get relief, and that can mean more than six plants per patient, Robnett said. Amendment 20 explicitly allows patients to possess what is medically necessary, even if that exceeds six, 12 or 20 plants, she said.
Sometimes patients can’t afford cannabis at a dispensary and rely on their own plant stock or private caregivers to provide them their medicine.
“These are the patients we need to be protecting,” Robnett said.