by Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly
(Editor/GG: The Sentinel recently asked Custer County Sheriff Byerly the question below as the new Colorado pot law, House Bill 1220, dramatically changed the rules for growing pot in our state. We felt it would be informative for our readers, especially in light of the many, huge illegal grows busted this summer in our county.)
Could you give us an overview of the new marijuana HB 17-1220, “Concerning Measures to Stop Diversion of Legal Marijuana to the Illegal Market” and how this bill would affect law enforcement in Custer County?
House Bill 1220 is a new law passed by the legislature, at the behest of the Governor’s office and in cooperation with the Medical Marijuana industry, to assist in curtailing the large black and gray marijuana markets that have developed since the
adoption of legalized marijuana in Colorado. This new law was specifically designed to target the illegal cultivation operations in residential properties as well as close the caregiver loophole in existing law. So, what does this new law mean, and how will it affect those who are growing marijuana in Custer County? Here is how HB 17-1220 works in a nutshell;
The law limits the number of plants that can be grown on, or in, a residential property to 12 plants. This means no matter where a person lives, in an apartment or a 40-acre property, they are only allowed to have 12 plants on the property at any one time. The law also does not specify if the plants are mature or in the seedling stage, the limit is 12 plants period.
HB 1220 also allows for an exception to allow a 24-plant limit provided the person does the following;
1. The person is a medical marijuana patient or a registered caregiver.
2. Lives in a jurisdiction that has not limited the number of plants that may be grown on a residential property.
3. Has registered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
4. Provides notice to the jurisdiction of his or her cultivation operation.
There was some debate during the design of the bill as to whether limiting the number of plants to 12 would violate the constitutionality of the bill considering some medical marijuana patients receive recommendations to have up to 99 plants. This was resolved by allowing individuals who want to grow more than 12 plants to do so by having their cultivation operations on a property that is not zoned residential. Additionally, it does allow for a county or municipality to allow an individual to grow more than 12 plants within a residential property if they choose, as long as the plants are in an enclosed and locked space.
If a person violates this law, it is a Level 1 Drug Petty Offense punishable of a fine up to $1,000 on the first offense. For a second offense, it is a Level 1 Misdemeanor Drug Offense if it involves more than 12 plants but less than 24 plants and a level 3 Drug Felony for a second and subsequent offense if the offense involves more than 24 plants.
Once we understand how the law reads, it is important to understand why it was needed and what it means for residents who are growing marijuana here in the county. The law was needed because it is recognized the majority of illegal marijuana being grown in the state was not staying in Colorado. It was being moved to other regions where it could be sold at a much higher price than locally. The industry, along with the legislature, wanted to close loopholes and try to develop more effective regulation. With that in mind, in Custer County it essentially restricts any residential property to 24 plants. Due to the fact the towns and the county have not passed any regulations stipulating a limit on the number of plants that can be grown in a residence, the number defaults to 24 plants total. This applies to all marijuana plants, medical, recreational, or a combination of both. If a person is a registered Medical Marijuana caregiver, they are allowed to have up to 24 plants on their residential property, then they are now required to grow any additional plants on a separate property. It they do this; the cultivation location must be registered with the state and the local jurisdiction as clearly stated in the provisions of the law. It is also important to note both the towns and the county commissioners have been waiting for the law to pass so they could then consider a number limit on plants but wanted to ensure their ordinances worked with HB 1220 and there was not a contradiction.
What this does do is help law enforcement track where legal marijuana is being cultivated and assists us in determining where possible illegal activities are occurring. This is a positive for not only law enforcement, but for those individuals and businesses who are legally cultivating and supplying legal marijuana to their clients and customers. It is a positive step to help regulate the cultivation of marijuana which will only help those who are in the legal marijuana business.
It is my hope this helps clarify the new law and answer questions some may have about it. We currently have no medical or retail marijuana businesses in the county but medical caregivers do reside here. We also have to understand the marijuana industry is here to stay in Colorado and therefore, it is incumbent upon all involved to work together to promote sensible and manageable regulation for the benefit of the state and its residents.