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Local law enforcement laments legal marijuana after busting illegal grows 

click to enlarge Law enforcement has busted more illegal grows since plant limits were lowered. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Law enforcement has busted more illegal grows since plant limits were lowered.
Positioned in front of large bags of marijuana from recent busts, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey and Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May took turns bashing voter-approved amendments to the Colorado Constitution that they claim have made the area less safe and created more work for them.

The press conference took place May 30. A story the day before in the Gazette, which regularly runs stories and editorials critical of the industry, stated that Elder claimed his office had executed 64 search warrants for illegal grows in the past five months and seized 5,200 marijuana plants. That’s a marked increase from 2017, the story noted, when the office raided 73 grows and seized 2,560 plants.

At the press conference, Carey called legalization, which was approved by a majority of El Paso County voters, “one of the biggest problems the state faces today.” Elder and May, meanwhile, referred to legalization as “a failed experiment.”

That characterization may seem odd, because legalization is not an “experiment” or a pilot program, but is part of the highest law in the state.

May claimed the black market for marijuana is bigger than retail or medical marijuana and is “overwhelming law enforcement and prosecutors.” (In case you were wondering, May appeared to be calling for all states to make marijuana illegal again, not for other states to allow their residents to access legal cannabis, which presumably would eliminate or reduce the demand for smuggled product.)

May also linked homicides to marijuana and claimed that Colorado is No. 1 in the nation for use of marijuana by youth. Studies, however, haven’t been conclusive on the topic, with some finding youth use down. The truth is, more information is probably needed.

May went on to say, “There’s no reason someone needs 99 plants for their own use.”

Apparently, lawmakers agreed with May on that point, because people can no longer grow 99 plants for their own use. (Even patients who may need large numbers of plants to make products like oils.) The state Legislature passed a law that limited home grows to 12 plants for recreational use and 24 plants for medical use and for caregivers. That law went into effect in January 2018, which one would assume May is aware of. (Colorado Springs had a 12-plant limit before that law passed.)

Before the new state limit went into effect, the Sheriff’s Office complained that it was difficult to determine when a grow was illegal, leading to fewer busts. Which, by the way, might explain that huge, recent spike in busts.

Elder went on to blame the increase in the county jail population, from about 1,200 a day in 2014, to 1,700 a day today, on marijuana. “I think the relationship between those jumps has something to do with marijuana,” he said.

But Elder, who runs the jail, didn’t provide any hard evidence that was true, even though he has access to that information.

That’s just a sampling of the bold claims made by law enforcement officials, who, you may recall, are charged with upholding laws, even ones they don’t like.

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