Illegal Pot Growing Operations Draw Ire from El Paso County Residents

This illegal marijuana grow house in Pueblo was busted by authorities.

Courtesy/Pueblo County Sheriff's Office

This illegal marijuana grow house in Pueblo was busted by authorities.

A panel of experts on marijuana law felt the frustration of its audience in a two-hour session in El Paso County last week. Mainly the crowd wanted to know why more isn’t been done to shut down illegal grow operations, according to The Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs.

Springs Mayor John Suthers said in May that he expected police to bust hundreds of illegal grow operations this summer, and those in the audience wanted to know what had happened with that.

State law limits the number of plants that can be grown in a home for personal recreational use to 12, but medical marijuana providers and patients can grow more, with loopholes, up to 99 plants.

An illegal marijuana grow operation at home in Pueblo.

Photo courtesy/Pueblo County Sheriff

An illegal marijuana grow operation at a home in Pueblo.

“We go in and verify their plant count and tell them to have a nice day,” said Adam Hughes, a detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Unit, according to The Gazette report. “That’s because they’re legal under state law, so you can see where we’re at in that dilemma of what’s legal and what’s not legal.”

Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh warned Rocky Mountain PBS News viewers in April that an increasing number of illegal marijuana traffickers are moving into Colorado to set up grow operations in private residences, then shipping that marijuana to states where it isn’t legal.

“We’re concerned first and foremost because this is organized crime, and there are hundreds of these houses, perhaps thousands,” Walsh said on Colorado State of Mind. “Often we find firearms involved with these grows.”

Organized crime is operating illegal marijuana grow operations in Colorado under cover of the state's legal industry, said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.

U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado

Organized crime is operating illegal marijuana grow operations in Colorado under cover of the state’s legal industry, said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.

Criminal growers come to Colorado to be shielded by the state’s legal marijuana laws, pack hundreds of plants into houses, and produce huge quantities of marijuana, Walsh said. He said these houses are often distinguished by grow lights blazing late at night and by substantial mildew problems.

Sharon Gerhart, chief deputy prosecutor in the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, told the El Paso County meeting that investigators can build a case for probable cause of illegal grows by noting significantly high water and electricity use or if semi-trucks constantly are driving to and from a home, possibly to transport marijuana out of the state, Chhun Sun of The Gazette reported.

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