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537 plants seized in medical marijuana sting; judge reverses course in case of accused doctors 

Cannabiz

click to enlarge No matter what, 537 marijuana plants is too many. - STEVE DEFINO
  • Steve Defino
  • No matter what, 537 marijuana plants is too many.

Huge bust halts MMJ grower

On Aug. 18, the Colorado Springs Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence division assisted with the execution of three search warrants that resulted in the arrest of one person and the seizure of 537 marijuana plants, three firearms, ammunition and an undisclosed amount of cash. The raid took place within city limits and included agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Felipe Hurtado, the 51-year-old man arrested, had six outstanding felony warrants in Georgia in connection with the 2014 theft of around 8.9 million hydrocodone tablets — an opioid medication that's widely prescribed and highly addictive. According to CSPD's statement following the bust, Hurtado was associated with an unspecified criminal organization and fled to "the general area of Colorado Springs [...] to grow marijuana under the pretext of medical marijuana."

Another raid the same day in Briargate netted 24 plants from a home, but law enforcement agencies have released no further information. KKTV reported that the house has been condemned.

This news comes amid a string of marijuana-related busts along the Front Range as law enforcement officials crack down on abuses of the medical marijuana system. Under the recreational provision to Colorado's constitution, adults over 21 years old can grow and possess up to six marijuana plants. But the medical side is a little hazier, with language allowing for an amount of marijuana that's "medically necessary."

That affirmative defense has held up in court — locally, most notably, in the case of leukemia patient and cannabis activist Bob Crouse — but isn't as strong as a right, much to the chagrin of advocates pushing to keep patients' access to medicine unrestricted by municipal laws like the Springs' 12-plant limit.

While 537 is illegal anywhere (the statewide limit for medical homegrows is 99 plants), the number of plants citizens should be able to grow in their own homes is the topic of much debate. The Denver Post editorial board recently weighed in, writing in late July that "it strikes us as unreasonable and irresponsible to believe that a single patient would need access to 75 cannabis plants or more at any one time."

Acknowledging that it takes a lot of flower to extract oils for non-smoking forms of delivery and that tolerance increases over time, the Post concluded that "we'd also be dopes to believe that no one with that amount of marijuana would ever be tempted to engage in black-market or underground sales."

As of July, just under 4 percent of the state's 102,620 registered medical marijuana patients have physician recommendations for more than 75 plants. Just over 1 percent are recommended for 50 to 75 plants, while nearly 80 percent of patients are recommended for up to six plants.

Activists with the local Cannabis Patient Rights Coalition are planning another demonstration outside the City Administration Building for Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 9 a.m. The city's plant count ordinance is likely to be a focal point for caregivers, patients and supporters who feel that government efforts to stamp out bad actors is no reason to punish the good ones. A handful are contemplating legal action.

Still suspended

The four Colorado physicians accused of over-recommending medical marijuana will go through administrative hearings this week after a Denver District Court judge reversed course and reinstated their suspensions.

The Colorado Medical Board first suspended the doctors' licenses last month, citing documentation that shows they improperly signed off on recommendations for more than 1,500 patients to grow at least 75 plants each. The doctors sued, arguing they never got the chance to defend themselves and that the allegations appeared based on a nonexistent, arbitrary standard. Judge Ross Buchanan initially took the doctors' side, temporarily blocking the suspensions and allowing them to practice medicine but not recommend medical marijuana.

But last week Buchanan reversed his decision, concluding he should've dismissed the case rather than granting the temporary injunction. Now the doctors will go through hearings to try to get their suspensions lifted. Their attorney, Rob Corry, told the Cannabist that he's not optimistic.

One of the accused doctors, William Stone, practiced locally at MedEval clinic on North Academy Boulevard.

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