Garfield County tightens personal pot growing regulations | PostIndependent.com

Garfield County tightens personal pot growing regulations

Following some high-profile busts of large illegal marijuana farms in Garfield County, commissioners moved Monday to tighten control over personal marijuana grows, which have gone largely unregulated by the county.

New amendments to the county land use code target personal marijuana grows, not commercial operations.

These amendments follow discovery of large illegal pot farms in unincorporated Garfield County.

One bust on Mile Pond Road near Rifle uncovered a massive operation where authorities found about 2,600 marijuana plants.

County code enforcement officer Wade Patton said that since then, authorities have discovered three more pot farms with around 400 plants each. "But there are so many more than just that," he said.

Patton and the Garfield County Sheriff's Office are trying to make a big dent in this industry "to let them know we're watching," he said.

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But the new amendments do not target illegal grow operations, but ones that have operated legally though loopholes that allow them to become quite large.

Violations of these amendments would necessarily be a civil rather than a criminal matter, and commissioners were concerned about enforcement through possibly lengthy lawsuits.

After the county's community development department expressed concerns this summer about unchecked marijuana grows in unincorporated parts of the county, staff recommended initiating caps for both plant count and for square footage of growing space.

The amendments restrict personal marijuana grows to 36 plants grown in a 300-square-foot, contiguous area for properties on lots 20,000 square feet or more.

For smaller lots, the amendments allow for even fewer plants: 12 plants per lot, which can be grown only in an area of 100 square feet. On lots with three or more dwelling units, residents are also allowed only 12 plants per dwelling unit, also in a contiguous 100-square-foot space.

Personal grows and "caregiver facilities" have until now not been regulated by the county.

Generally, an individual is allowed to grow up to six plants for themselves.

While state law allows people to grow six plants for themselves, language in the law also allows people to "assist another person," which the attorney general's office has recently opined means a person can assist an unlimited number of individuals, theoretically allowing them to grow an unlimited number of marijuana plants, David Pesnichak, county senior planner, told commissioners Monday.

Colorado law also allow individuals to grow marijuana plants as "caregivers" for up to five patients.

County staff arrived at a restriction of 36 plants based on the number a caregiver can grow with five patients, plus the six the caregiver can grow for him or herself.

But caregivers can also get a waiver to take on more patients and some doctors will prescribe more plants for certain patients, according to staff.

"In some cases, the caregiver's grow has easily exceeded 100 plants," according to the staff report. "We are now aware that patients frequently have medical cards authorizing them to have far in excess of six plants. Therefore, the county is seeing large-scale medical marijuana open air grows … that claim to be caregiver facilities."

Staff and commissioners were concerned about numerous safety hazards they say these large, unregulated operations pose.

"These standards are to address nuisance, health and safety issues related to an individual's right to grow marijuana for personal and medical use under the state constitution," according to the county staff report.

The county's amendments will also require that all grows be in "enclosed locked spaces," rather than allowing grows outdoors.

And language in the amendments bars these grows from producing "odors, smoke, heat, glare or light" detectable from the property line.

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