Legislation aimed at cracking down on marijuana home-grows was heavily amended Wednesday to allow medical cannabis patients and caregivers to cultivate up to 24 plants.
House Bill 1220 started with a limit of 12 plants before lawmakers upped the count to 16.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday – in what some described as a Kumbaya moment between law enforcement, patients and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office – lawmakers again amended the bill to allow for up to 24 plants, but with stipulations.
The amended bill passed the committee unanimously.
Patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow up to 24 plants if they register with the state, though patients would not have to disclose what medical condition qualifies them for use of medical marijuana.
If patients and caregivers don’t register larger grows under the proposed legislation, then they would be limited to 12 plants per household. Recreational growers would be limited to the constitutional six-plant limit per person, up to 12 per household.
The legislation also protects local control by allowing towns and cities to limit the number of marijuana plants that may be grown at home, or expand the statewide cap.
If the local jurisdiction does not have a limit, patients and caregivers growing up to 24 plants would have to provide notice to the local government, though that notice would not be a public record in an effort to ensure privacy.
Lawmakers also amended the home-grow bill on Wednesday to tighten up the definition of a “plant.” A plant would be defined as being in a container that is more than 4 inches wide by 4 inches high, or a flowering plant regardless of size. The first definition lawmakers came up with would have defined a plant as being more than 8 inches wide by 8 inches high.
The idea behind the “plant” definition is to avoid people being arrested for having several seedlings. Not all seedlings become mature plants, so lawmakers wanted to allow flexibility.
Lawmakers also agreed to once again ease criminal penalties associated with violating the proposed home-grow limit.
A first violation would be a petty offense subject to a $1,000 fine. Second or subsequent offenses would carry a misdemeanor penalty for an unregistered home-grow that is more than 12 plants up to 24. Second or subsequent offenses for more than 24 plants would carry a felony penalty.
Lawmakers started by making any offense a felony, then they lowered a first violation to a petty offense, and then they reduced second or subsequent offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The legislation has been a priority for Hickenlooper, who believes the state is inviting federal intervention with loose cannabis laws.
Colorado law allows patients to grow up to 99 plants if their doctor determines that there is a medical necessity for more than six plants. A caregiver can grow medical marijuana for each of the patients they serve.
Colorado is more generous than other states that allow home grows. California, for example, limits home grows to six plants.
A recent Keating Research poll stated that there is broad support for limiting home grows to 12 plants. Colorado voters favor the 12-plant limit by 21 points, 57 percent to 36 percent, according to the survey.
Supporters of the home-grow limit say it would curb illegal diversion. Growers are cultivating dozens of plants at home legally using loopholes, but then diverting the product out of state to the black market.
Law enforcement agencies last week busted large-scale marijuana grows at what is believed to be 20 locations across the Front Range.