Last week, Colorado Springs City Council passed another new ordinance that will affect home growers of all stripes.
"I didn't say the word..." Fire Marshal Brett Lacey joked while presenting it, straightening up to clarify that "this came out of our dealings with marijuana home grows."
Specifically, the new ordinance, which passed unanimously, targets intensive indoor grow operations in residential single-family dwellings and townhomes. Any home grow "utilizing grow lighting shall be limited to areas of the residence other than kitchens, bathrooms and/or bedrooms/sleeping rooms" — with an exception for bedrooms as long as there's another code-compliant one elsewhere in the unit — and that "a room or an enclosure with grow lighting used for flora grow, propagation, consumption, or selling shall be limited to 150 square feet aggregate in size per premises."
Any operation exceeding that will be considered a factory occupancy under the building code, requiring new permits. Acceptable lighting is limited to LED and CFL bulbs, with possible exceptions at the discretion of the fire department.
Additionally, the new ordinance prohibits "the manufacture of flora concentrates, oils or other derivatives involving the use of compressed flammable gas, flammable gas, flammable liquid, or combustible liquid as a solvent in a residential setting" as well as "the storage, use, and/or handling of carbon dioxide, and/or carbon dioxide systems." Chemicals can be stored on the premises, but not in habitable areas. Properly permitted ventilation systems are also a must.
Much of that is already in the fire code, Lacey explained, but the ordinance will provide clarity for the public and enhanced enforcement capability for his team. "As you know, we've responded to fires and numerous issues from home grows," he said, citing sub-par electrical alterations, blown transformers and improper ventilation that gave way to mold. Basically, he argued that intensive home grows pose a risk to both first responders and public safety at large — a premise that council members, the marijuana working group and citizens are more or less on board with.
He emphasized that the ordinance doesn't single out cannabis grows.
"Say it's not marijuana, say it's green chili — personally that's my favorite because I'm from the Albuquerque area — so what if I wanted to grow green chili in my house then sell it at the farmers market," Lacey offered. "I've spoken to a number of you about how that's not appropriate. A home should be a place where we live, eat and sleep — not a place where we grow an excessive number of plants, and I don't care what the plant is."
When Lacey presented the ordinance July 25, Councilors Bill Murray and Keith King had questions about constitutional rights (albeit from opposite perspectives).
King wanted to know whether it's legally permissible for the fire department to take a preventive approach to enforcement, rather than just reacting to complaints. Murray voiced concern about selective enforcement and overly broad inspection authority. "A bigger lasso sometimes strangles us," as he put it.
Lacey responded that "the fire code is already a pretty powerful document ... I think if we're very careful with it we have the right to mitigate any dangerous circumstance."
Lacey indicated he's "confident" that his staff will be able to handle these new enforcement responsibilities but if not, he'd ask for more resources.
Reactions to the flora ordinance among the cannabis community are mixed.
Bridgett Dandaraw-Serrit, founder of the Cannabis Patient Rights Coalition and member of the marijuana working group, expressed satisfaction. "The way [Lacey] presented it, he said it's not about the patient grows, it's about the illegal grows. That's the only time I've heard this city separate the two out," she said, adding that on behalf of patients, "for the most part, I'm absolutely all for this ordinance."
Jason Warf of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council took a dimmer view, calling it an effort "to limit the constitutional rights for a medical cannabis patient to be able to grow the amount of medicine recommended by their physician."
Bountifully planted greenhouses remain permissible under the new ordinance, provided they house green chilies, tomatoes, orchids or anything that doesn't start with "M" and end with "arijuana." If that's your flora of choice, don't grow more than 12 plants with a hefty lock on the door and your doctor's recommendation on hand in case you get a visit from newly empowered code enforcers.