Pungent pot can be a source of tension between neighbors. (Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)

Neighbors and pot conflicts — ways to clear the air

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In Haig’s case, her landlord in Colorado Springs hasn’t said anything, but many apartment complexes throughout the state are banning pot, including all federally subsidized housing projects.

Calling the smell police

Rent or own, if you live in Denver and have a smell-related problem, you can always call the city’s odor police.

From Jan. 1 through the end of March, Denver’s Department of Environmental Health received 13 odor complaints related to marijuana, according to spokeswoman Meghan Hughes.

So far, all complaints have stemmed from the cultivation of the plant in commercial grow operations and in a few cases, personal grows in residential neighborhoods.

Some callers didn’t even know the musky aroma was pot until the city came on scene to investigate, Hughes said.

None were in violation of the city’s odor law, and in fact, smells in general rarely reach that threshold, said Ben Siller, a city investigator responsible for looking into odor complaints and signing off on commercial grow permits.

Violations occur only when an odor exceeds a 7-1 ratio — when one volume of odor is detectable within seven or more volumes of non-odorous air. Think industrial-level smells, like a smelting plant, Hughes said.

“Growing marijuana or smoking it is never going to violate that standard,” Siller said.

Colorado marijuana guide: 64 of your questions, answered

Still, Siller said the city investigates every odor complaint it receives. Sometimes, there can be easy solutions to irksome aromas — such as a commercial grow facility that just needs a reminder to replace its activated-carbon air filters.

In one case earlier this year, the city received a complaint about a house in southeast Denver with a “discernible odor from the street,” he said.

Siller involved the city’s Neighborhood Inspection Services, and upon further investigation, they found some 25 marijuana plants in the residence, well above the maximum
allowed for personal recreational use.

“That didn’t violate our odor standards, but by bringing down the number of plants at the address, it probably reduced the odor,” Siller said. “There really shouldn’t be much of an odor if you’re within the limits, which is 12 plants.”

Neighbor negotiations

Whether it’s marijuana, tobacco smoke or barking dogs, all neighbor conflicts share many of the same dynamics, said Clay Fong, program manager for the City of Boulder Community Mediation Service.

“Managing conflict is difficult for people,” Fong said. “Marching right over there immediately might not be the best option.”

Many tend to look at their homes as their castles, but almost everyone is part of a larger community and has an interest in maintaining a good relationship with those around them, he said.

“Every living circumstance has some degree of compromise, no matter where you live, unless you have no neighbors around for miles,” Fong said.

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Nip neighbor problems in the bud

Clay Fong, program manager of the City of Boulder Community Mediation Service, offers tips for approaching a neighbor about a bothersome issue.

Assess your comfort level. How comfortable are you approaching your neighbor? What’s your style? Is a face-to-face conversation or leaving a note better for you?

Act early. If your buttons are “really pushed,” you may want to wait a day or two to cool down, Fong said. But generally, the sooner you act to address an issue constructively, the less likely it is to escalate into one of those neighbor horror stories.

Don’t personalize. Explain the impact of your neighbor’s action — maybe you’re more sensitive to smoke — but don’t make it a personal attack.

Propose possible solutions. You don’t want to come off like you’re making a one-sided demand. “What we want to do is say, ‘Stop this behavior!’ — but look at it as an opportunity to build neighborliness moving forward,” Fong said. “Offer some positive solutions and don’t look at it as a battle.”

Consider mediation. If you’re getting nowhere or feel uncomfortable, free or low-cost mediation is an option in many communities along the Front Range. Trained mediators will create a safe environment for you to discuss the issue and try to work out a solution — before you end up in the court system. Contact your county or city; they should be able to refer you.

Reach out before there’s a problem. Coming up with a communication plan is often part of the mediation process, he said, but you don’t have to wait for things to go bad to figure out how to best contact one another.

Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457, erusch@denverpost.com or twitter.com/emilierusch

This story was first published on DenverPost.com