Wayne Damata trims marijuana buds for sale at a medical marijuana indoor grow in Denver on March 19, 2013. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Editorial: New limits on medical pot plants are smart, if unpopular

State officials struck a nerve Friday when they unveiled new policies on medical marijuana, but they should stay the course. The integrity of the program is more important than placating a noisy group of activists.

One policy, which goes into effect this week, requires doctors to provide medical justification when they give patients permission to grow more than six plants. There is nothing extraordinary or unfair about this mandate. In fact, “medically necessary” is the term used in the state constitution to describe when the six-plant threshold may be breached, noted Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Opinion: Read more pot editorials on the Civic Center 4/20 rally, testing for THC content in edibles and marijuana banking

But do some doctors grant permission for high plant counts without a medical rationale? Almost certainly, yes. A state audit last summer discovered three websites that “advertised the availability of getting a recommendation for a higher-than-standard marijuana plant count. In two cases, the website indicated that a higher plant count was available for an additional fee.”

Such blatant appeals are highly suspicious, to say the least.

In one case, the audit noted, “the physician had recommended 501 plants for the patient” — an absurdly high figure more than 83 times the standard limit.

Wolk is also proposing a change in law to limit caregivers to no more than five patients and growing no more than six plants per patient. With 3,300 caregivers in Colorado and only 24 serving more than five patients, this is not the huge problem that law enforcement sometimes portrays it to be. Still, one caregiver alone has 82 patients, Wolk said — and it is impossible to see how any individual could possibly have “significant responsibility for managing the well-being” of 82 patients, as the constitution requires.

Advocates for higher plant counts for patients and caregivers argue they need more plants to make edible products and concentrates that some patients prefer. But extracting concentrates from marijuana is the sort of activity that simply shouldn’t be undertaken in a home. It’s dangerous and has resulted in numerous cases of hash-oil explosions that injure people and damage property.

Wolk is on the right track. It’s time to get serious about those who abuse the system.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com