The Denver Fire Department issued 58 permits for warehouses to grow marijuana in non-licensed facilities last year – marijuana not to be sold in dispensaries. This marijuana was to be grown primarily by caregivers for consumption by medical users, or for the grower’s personal use.
With the permits, the department was acknowledging state law, approved by voters through a constitutional amendment in 2000, which gave caregivers the right to grow six plants for five patients and six for themselves, or 36 plants.
But when the Denver City Council dropped the hammer on the permitted warehouses on March 23, it was because the fire department presented evidence that the process had gotten far out of hand. Caregivers had rented warehouse space collectively, and in some buildings hundreds or even as many as 2,000 marijuana plants were being grown.
The council’s decision came just before a Colorado grand jury indicted more than 30 people accused of growing marijuana in Denver warehouses under the guise of caregiving. The indictments said much of the marijuana was shipped out of Colorado for illegal sale, mostly to Minnesota.
The indictments were based on raids last October when the Denver Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement groups seized about 4,600 pounds of marijuana, nearly 2,000 marijuana plants, 10 pounds of hash oil, and approximately $1.4 million in cash, according to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
In making its case for a change in city code, the fire department estimated that the average plant count in any of the 58 permitted but non-licensed warehouse grows was about 1,000 plants, with the largest containing closer to 2,000 plants.
While some patients receive legal waivers for more than six plants, and some caregivers can be waived to grow for more than five patients, the sheer number of plants jammed into some of the warehouses was alarming, officials said.
“It is very unlikely that these numbers of plants support only caregiving or personal, private use of marijuana,” said Dan Rowland, a spokesperson for the City and County of Denver, in an email.
In a unanimous vote, 11-0, the council passed a new ordinance that would allow no more than 36 marijuana plants to be grown at any non-residential site, except licensed cultivation facilities.