Lawmakers take aim at state’s ‘gray’ marijuana market

Bill seeks to boost law enforcement grant programs

Yeulin Willett

DENVER — While the black market for marijuana sales continues to be something law enforcement focuses on, the gray market also will be targeted under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Monday.

The market is called gray because it involves legally grown marijuana that is sold illegally. And while law enforcement isn’t sure just how much legally grown pot is finding its way to the black market, HB1221 is designed to help police deal with it.

“Just to put it into perspective, basically these plants have become so hybridized they cultivate more often, and the THC levels are so high that one plant generates about $3,000 worth of product in a year,” said Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, who introduced the bill with Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver.

“We have created a market, a gray market,” he added. “Just in the last two years, Colorado Springs has seen a 2,000 percent increase in the number of illegal grows. The West Slope has seen a 10-fold increase in illegal grows. We’re seeing a precipitous rise in this problem. We’ve got to get law enforcement the right training so they understand the laws, and the right resources to go out and curtail this.”

Using funds generated from taxes on marijuana sales, the bill would create a $6 million grant program for law enforcement to use for training in how to enforce the law and in investigations of legal growing operations that may be selling pot illegally.

Current law already provides for a $1.1 million grant program, but the problem has become so great that more money is needed, Pabon and Willett said.

Willett tacked on a last-minute amendment to the bill to prioritize those grants to rural and “needy” law enforcement agencies.

Preliminary passage of the bill — it requires a final House vote before it can head to the Senate — came on the heels of the final passage of a measure similarly aimed at curbing the gray market.

That measure, HB1220, dramatically lowers to 16 from 99 the number of pot plants that medical marijuana patients or caregivers can grow on residential property.

The passage of that second bill — it now heads to the Senate — won immediate praise from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, which said the larger number of plants that was allowed was a loophole that has been attracting criminals.

“Colorado voters did not envision massive, commercial-grade, home-grow operations in residential areas, and those who maintain that this is in some way permitted by the state Constitution are flat-out wrong,” said Greenwood Village police Chief John Jackson, head of the association’s criminal discovery task force. “In recent weeks, federal attention on this matter has only emphasized the importance of making sure we have adequate protections in place to prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors and to ensure legal activity is not used as a cover and to benefit dangerous criminal elements.”

The bill allows caregivers of multiple medical marijuana patients to grow plants for them, but they cannot do so in areas zoned residential.


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