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Weed Activists in Colorado Oppose the State's 16 Homegrown Plant Cap

The state says they’re reining in the black market. Medical patients and activists like Jason Lauve disagree.

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Lead image via Flickr

Last week, a house committee ruled 11-2 in favor of HB17-1220, a bill that would enact a statewide cap on marijuana home grows to 16 plants per household.

According to the state legislature, the cap is needed to curb cartel activity in Colorado. Several large-scale grows operated by organized crime were busted last year for growing massive amounts of pot to illegally export out of the state, which some legislators argued was an exploitation of Colorado’s medical marijuana system.

“This is an important step Colorado needs to take to protect the medical and recreational marijuana system that we have in place,” said House Majority Leader KC Becker (D-Boulder) during last Friday’s debate at Colorado’s House of Representatives. “We have made commitments. We’re going to make sure that that system isn’t used to divert marijuana into the illegal market. Right now there’s a loophole where people can grow large amounts of marijuana at home legally and divert it onto the illegal market.”

Not so fast, say weed activists and advocates. According to Reps. Adrienne Benavidez (D-Commerce City) and Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton), the plant count cap unfairly punishes law-abiding patients for the illegal activities of cartels, as it reinstates felony penalties for plant counts that were perfectly legal in the state for nearly 17 years.

For those unfamiliar with Colorado’s medical marijuana scene, here’s a primer. Colorado’s medical marijuana system was established in 2000 under Amendment 20, a state constitutional amendment. Colorado’s legal marijuana system is unique from most other states’ because Amendment 20 was written into the state constitution. Technically, the legislature or the governor cannot override what’s in the state constitution. Repealing or even changing Amendment 20 would require a vote by Colorado’s citizens.

One key provision of Amendment 20 is that it guarantees all qualifying medical marijuana patients in the state the right – not the privilege – to grow six plants.

However, there’s some wiggle room in Amendment 20 for severely debilitated patients who may need more than six plants. The maximum limit, for patients or caregivers, is 99 plants. That may seem excessive on the surface, but note these are patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, Crohn’s, seizure disorders, or irreparable nerve damage.

Jason “Mister Hemp” Lauve falls under the last category. In 2004, a snowboarder collided into him while he was on the slopes. The collision left him in chronic pain, and today, he relies on cannabis to live a healthy, functional life.

In 2009, the cops raided Lauve for allegedly growing too many plants on his property. That raid led to him becoming the defendant in a landmark case which tested the limits of Colorado’s constitution. Lauve did exceed the standard six-plant count, but his doctor gave him (and, by proxy, the state) written permission to have more plants. A jury ultimately sided with the state law, and they found him not guilty of all charges. The court returned his confiscated flower to him, too, but they did not return his plants. Amendment 20 remained relatively intact for another six years.

Prior to Monday’s house hearing, activists asked Lauve—who now runs the publication Cannabis Health News—to testify as an expert against HB17-1220. In an interview with MERRY JANE, he says he doesn’t see his case as the deciding factor when it comes to plant counts. Rather, he says laws have long been in place to guarantee patients the right to grow, and bills like HB17-1220 grossly extend the government’s overreach.  

MERRY JANE: One of the bill’s sponsors argued that patients don’t have a right to grow their medicine in a residence, just as they don’t have a right to grow their own food. Is this bill, in your opinion, an attempt to circumvent patients’ rights?
Jason Lauve: Did I think they would circumvent our rights? Yeah, they do it to us all the time. Did I anticipate that they would attack Amendment 20 on the basis of medical necessity? No. That shocked me, actually. Here’s what’s interesting. I’m more shocked that people believed it. During my trial, the people decided how my trial played out. That jury of 12 acquitted me. It was their choice, not the legislative body’s, not the judicial body’s, and not the executive body’s. I think that reinforces why our country’s [judicial] system works.

So it’s amazing to hear the legislative intent is to change not only constitutional law, but to also change those inalienable rights we’re granted by our country. The Declaration of Independence states we have these rights. Medical necessity is one of those inalienable rights. I’m amazed that we’re even having this conversation, especially in this day and age, when we’ve already been facing these conversations about the 2nd Amendment, and 4th and 5th Amendment violations, across the board with warrantless raids and  asset forfeiture—that all comes back to the Constitution. Where’s that protection of my property? No one ever gave the government the right to take my property away.

And Amendment 20 says the state can’t take anyone’s property in connection with medical marijuana. But will forcing patients to move large grows from their homes to commercial warehouses stop the black market production of pot?
They’re saying they’re trying to eliminate the black market, but the drug war’s been going on for how many years now? They’ve never been able to get any control over that. That’s why we’re here today, because the drug war is a losing situation.

Let’s look at this in terms of what the legislature brought up: it was large-scale trafficking across state lines. They openly admitted these offenders were not patients. So let’s look at the laws that exist. We already have RICO laws. We already have criminal and cartel laws. We already have these laws in place that address every single thing they’re talking about.

What they’re doing now is saying they have a right to come into our homes – a fundamental protection we have for our person and property and home – and they want the right to take our plants. Now, they think that’s a way to address trafficking. But if we’re all legitimate medical patients, my legal protection should come from the fact that I’m a patient. Most of these things that we’re encountering with cartels are completely illegitimate: false addresses, people from other states growing here, so on and so forth. I think it’s pretty easy to differentiate patients from the criminals.

What do you think the real intentions of the bill are? 
To be blunt – and I’ll jump right across the fence on this one – this bill is about protecting the government’s profits. They steal from us. They have asset forfeiture laws. I hear this from patients and caregivers who still call me, in the state of Colorado, saying they got raided, the cops came, the cops destroyed their paperwork, the cops stole their money.

All that’s happening right now is we’re looking at legislation that’s here to protect the profits of law enforcement politicians. And this legislation will force patients to go to a dispensary or recreational market which we can’t afford. So it’s driving us back into a so-called “black market.” But going back to the foundation: Amendment 20 says that, as a patient, I can sell, transport, dispense, manufacture, and use cannabis. Why aren’t we just going back to the Amendment 20 protections?

Do you think HB17-1220 is going to be the end? Or will there be further restrictions on medical marijuana in the future?
Yes, ab-so-lutely. We’re going to see more attempts on restricting home grows. And it’s not just medical marijuana. They’re coming after hemp and CBD now, too.

For more on Jason Lauve, visit his website here.