Colorado has some of the most liberal marijuana growing limits in the United States. Under the amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state, most medical consumers will be given the standard six-plant count, yet, if the doctor orders it, a medical consumers or their caregiver may grow as many as 99 plants.
Under the recreational laws, individuals age 21 and up may grow as many as six plants per person. While county and municipal governments can, ultimately, limit the number of plants in a single residence, the practice has not been adopted by most. The state’s crown jewel of marijuana – Denver – for instance, has created a growing limit of twelve (12) plants in one residence.
Outlined previous to the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado impressed the idea of structuring these limits uniformly in both medical and recreational consumer markets. What would be both an effort to undermine the black or “gray” market and a proactive effort by state legislators to anticipate areas of legal concerns by the Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the state has begun the process of tightening growing limits, if only in the form of a bill.
House Bill 1220
House Bill 1220 has gained momentum in the Colorado legislature. Having been introduced to the House in early March 2017, the bill received overwhelming bipartisan support. On the 29th of March, the Senate would vote on the Act and, similarly, it would register an “Aye” from the state’s elected officials.
To summarize the bill, it would work as a sort of cultivation ceiling for medical consumers and recreational consumers. By setting growing limits in Colorado for all marijuana users at 12-plants per residence, Colorado lawmakers hope to deter the attractive bid of black and gray market sales or interstate diversion. Cited in a DEA intelligence report in June 2016, the current growing limits in the state has created a situation where large-scale, unlicensed, and unregulated marijuana cultivation operations have popped up inside residential properties. These type of growing facilities have been exploited by organized crime and have contributed to seepage of Colorado marijuana beyond the state lines. Additionally, the DEA reports the size of the facilities and desire to keep things hidden has led to electrical issues and property damage, which can cause implicit dangers to structural integrity, endangering both residents and emergency personnel (in the event of a fire, etc..).
As the Department of Justice, led by outspoken marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions, has indicated “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws, it would seem Colorado is bracing by homogenizing their growing limits similar to those of other very socially visible marijuana states, such as Oregon or Washington. In addition to the 12-plant Colorado marijuana growing limits, medical marijuana consumers and caregivers authorized to do so by their physician can grow as many as 24-plants; however, it must be done in a city or county which has adopted rules to allow it. At the time of writing, there is no clear indication which counties may allow increased growing limits under the proposed law.
Of course, as the United States continues to support marijuana reform, the states where recreational marijuana was first legalized continue to glean the most social visibility. For this reason, Oregon and Washington may provide further clues as to the thought behind the proposed growing limits in Colorado.
Oregon Growing Limits
Similar to how Colorado presently operates, Oregon maintains two different growing limit structures for medical and recreational consumers. Recreational consumers have a growing limit of four (4) plants per person age 21 and up and any residence may have no more than four (4) plants total regardless of the number of individuals 21 and up residing there.
Medical consumers may grow their own or have a grower cultivate on their behalf. In most cases, an individual may grow six (6) plants. According to the Oregon Department of Health, a grower must designate a growing site. Depending on where the site has been zoned (residential or out of city limits), a grower may cultivate as many as 48 plants. For residential city growers, a maximum of twelve (12) plants may be grown. For areas which are residential, but not in city limits, the growing limits increase to 48 plants. Additionally, no grower may be responsible for no more than four (4) consumers at any time.
Washington Growing Limits
Recreational consumers are not permitted to cultivate under Washington marijuana laws. Medical consumers or their designated caregiver may grow marijuana, but only if they have voluntarily registered on the Washington medical marijuana authorization database. Once registered, a consumer may grow between four (4) and six (6) plants but may be authorized to cultivate as many as 15 by their physician.
As an effort to further erode black market activities, it is important to consider the potential value of each plant and associate it with these growing limits. Specific to Colorado, the current 99-plant limit for medical consumers and recreational growing lacking a “per residence” function has the potential to financially tempt consumers into gray market activities. As cited by the DEA, the transfer, sale, or gifting of unregulated, untaxed, and untracked marijuana to persons, including children, in or out of the state is of major concern.
If we assume each plant can yield, conservatively, three to five ounces of usable marijuana and that the average price per ounce in Colorado of $200, a medical consumer or caregiver operating at a 99-plant capacity is generating between $59,400-$99,000 worth of product every few months. Assuming three harvests per year for indoor or greenhouse-grown marijuana, this translates to $178,200-$279,000 in marijuana per year. As of December 2016, Colorado Department of Public Health and Education reports 3,646 medical cardholders as being able to grow as many as 50 plants or more, with 75% of those cardholders growing between 75 and 99 plants.
There are currently 2,769 medical consumers growing 75 plants or more three times per year in the state, translating to a potential value of $135,000-$225,000 per consumer or between $373.8-$623 million in untracked or regulated marijuana each year. If just 10% of those consumers diverted 1/2 of their yearly supply, between $18.7-$31.1 million worth of untracked, but legally grown, marijuana could see the streets.
Will it help?
As cannabis further penetrates the social and legal order of the US, the proposed growing limits in Colorado HB 1220 are lawmakers latest attempt at reconciling the gray market – a place where Colorado marijuana laws contradict federal marijuana laws. The proposed measure, by limiting the total number of plants to twelve (12) per residence, will directly affect the number of large-scale growing operations and dramatically adjust consumer medication supply. In so doing, around 8% of the 95,000+ medical consumers in Colorado will see their plant count and growing limit change.
It has been difficult to pin down what sort of enforcement action to expect from the Trump Administration, but since the DEA is a branch of the Department of Justice, where Jeff Sessions – reform opponent no. 1 – currently heads, the years of industry expansion under the guidance of the Obama Administration are expected to be challenged. Due to the uncertainty surrounding Federal action, it is not guaranteed HB 1220 will posture Colorado any better than other states with operational marijuana industries. Instead, the proposed law would affect a small number of people, erode and prevent black and gray market dealings, and push further adherence to existing laws.