Pueblo authorities seized 67 marijuana plants at a home in April 2016. (Pueblo Sheriff's Office)

Colorado toughens up on home grows, boosts funding for black market enforcement

Colorado may be the laboratory for testing adult-use marijuana regulations, but it doesn’t need to be the Wild West of cannabis legalization, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday.

Hickenlooper signed two bills that aim to both clamp down on the black market and rein in regulations to close loopholes spurring “gray market” activity.

“The whole point of legalizing marijuana is you don’t continue to have a black market,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper signed House Bills 1220 and 1221, which cap home-grow limits at 12 plants and allocate $6 million of marijuana tax revenue toward black market enforcement efforts, respectively.

Related: See which 2017 Colorado marijuana and hemp bills became law

Hickenlooper, who stood in the West foyer of the state Capitol and was surrounded by lawmakers and law enforcers, said the state’s previous home-grow limits of 99 plants for medical marijuana purposes effectively created “large-scale grow operations in people’s homes.”

“So by setting a limit of 12 plants per home, I think we’re protecting neighborhoods from violence often associated with illegal drug trafficking,” he said during the public bill-signing ceremony.

The 12-plant cap puts Colorado more in line with other states that have marijuana programs in place, and it also could hit at the heart of gray market activity, Hickenlooper said following the ceremony.

“But we know for a fact that people are pretending to grow medical marijuana and then exporting it to other states — not one, not two, many,” Hickenlooper told The Cannabist. “So we’re trying to tighten that loophole up.”

Colorado’s Amendment 64 approved by voters in 2012 allows an adult age 21 and older to cultivate up to six marijuana plants, with a maximum of three in a mature, flowering state. A number of municipalities, including Denver, already have set caps on the number of plants allowed in a residence, regardless of how many adults live there.

HB 1220 was amended to allow for medical marijuana primary caregivers with “exceptional circumstances” to have up to 24 plants, if they register with the state.

The law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Rob Corry, a Denver-based marijuana attorney, told the Colorado Springs Independent earlier this week that he may file an injunction against the state’s new plant-count law.

That lawsuit will be filed in a matter of days, Corry told The Cannabist on Thursday.

“We’ve got bills here that are in direct conflict with the voters’ will in enacting Amendment 64 as well as the voters’ will in enacting (medical marijuana) Amendment 20,” Corry said.

Hickenlooper, when asked about the claims and potential suit, responded with: “Bring it on.”

“If he wants to sue us, he can sue us … that’s why democracy is so great,” he said.