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Tips for Growing Cannabis in Colorado

Sunday December 8, 2019

A s any Colorado gardener can attest to, the state’s unpredictable climate requires special accommodations to make it through the volatile growing season. This is especially true of Colorado cannabis home growers who must pay attention not only to the weather but all of their surroundings, as well. Today we’ll discuss best practices for growing cannabis in Colorado’s crazy climate. But first, let’s take a look at what makes the Centennial State’s environment so unique.

Understanding Colorado’s Unique Climate

Colorado is the highest state in the nation – literally. Colorado’s average elevation is 6800 feet above sea level, though even at its lowest point, no part of Colorado is below 2000 feet above sea level. As such, outdoor crops and home grows in Colorado are susceptible to very high UV light penetration. Though this may be a good thing in terms of THC levels, it also contributes to our unpredictable weather patterns. Additionally, its inland geography and thus inaccessibility to large bodies of water means that Colorado, in general, is a much dryer state than the rest.

According to an article published by Colorado State University, the average annual precipitation throughout the state ranges between seven and 60 inches depending on location. Hence, successful growing operations must accommodate their crops based on their geographical location. To be clear, cannabis crops need about 35 inches of water on average; dry climates require additional irrigation options, whereas wet environments may fair better indoors where growers can control their water intake and help prevent mildew growth.

Finally, different regions witness extremely different weather patterns. For example, The plains are prone to sudden, relatively dry (though potentially damaging) thunderstorms and hailstorms that can cause a drastic drop in temperature. This sudden stressor may cause cannabis plants to “herm” or produce seeds as an evolutionary mechanism to protect the plant’s genetic line. However, the mountains and western side of the state are much less affected by these storms.

Advice for Cultivating Marijuana in Colorado

Colorado may have unpredictable weather patterns, but that doesn’t mean the weed there isn’t high quality. There are a few best practices growers should consider if they are to cultivate a successful cannabis crop in Colorado.

Start Seedlings Indoors in March

Seedlings require delicate care. They need a warm home and precise moisture levels. By starting seedlings indoors, you help ensure that your plants will get off to the best start possible without risking a surprise frost or other harsh weather conditions. Furthermore, by starting them in March, they will be large enough to withstand harsh winds, soft frost, and pest infestation by the time the outdoor growing season officially begins after Mother’s day in May.

Use Pots When Possible

Pots and planters are great for those with limited space. Grow pots allow growers to move them as necessary to protect them from weather or increase their sun exposure. Growing cannabis in planters also helps control plant size and makes it easier to grow them covertly.

However, the roots of plants grown in pots are not nearly as insulated as those grown in the ground. If a quick temperature drop is expected, prepare by insulating pots with dirt, old blankets, etc. If high winds are also in the forecast, bring the plants indoors for the time being. Check out this article for more information on protecting your plants from the elements.

Consider a Greenhouse Grow

Greenhouses are both secure and reliable. Not only do they protect plants from pests and other elements, but they also protect them from intruders and help them remain compliant with local Colorado cannabis cultivation laws. Additionally, greenhouses help extend the growing season to increase yield. Though greenhouses extend the growing season, year-round greenhouse cannabis cultivation requires special lighting and black-out screens to simulate different photoperiods.

Be Aware of Cannabis Cultivation Laws

Home cannabis cultivation laws vary by state and region but in general, there are a few things every Coloradian must follow. First, adults can only grow up to six plants with half flowering at a time (seedlings don’t count). Those numbers double per household if more than one adult lives there (i.e. no more than 12 plants, six flowering, even if eight adults live in the same space).

Additionally, renters and those living in public housing are not automatically afforded the right to cultivate cannabis on the premises. It is up to the landlord or the state whether or not to allow personal cannabis cultivation in these places; consult your rental/housing agreement for more information.

Finally, cannabis plants cannot grow within a 100-foot radius of a school. Plants must also be locked and inaccessible to anyone under 18 years old. If there are children in the home, cannabis plants must remain in a locked room or greenhouse, though if only adults live in residence, a lock on the front door is sufficient.

Growing marijuana at home is truly rewarding, especially for Colorado home growers who managed to protect their plants through the state’s unpredictable growing season.

Do you have tips for growing cannabis in Colorado? Share them in the comments below!

Colorado's unpredictable climate can require special accommodations to make it through the growing season. This is especially true of cannabis home growers who must pay attention not only to the weather but their surroundings, as well. Let's discuss best practices for growing in this crazy climate.

How Many Plants Can I Grow in Colorado?

How many plants can I grow? How does the new law, HB 17-1221, which takes effect 1/1/2018 impact the number of plants I can grow at home?

The purpose of sharing this information and my observations is not intended to facilitate a crime, but to help you prevent committing a Colorado State crime, staying legal or sharing the information with someone who might need it. It is not intended to be legal advice, since every situation is different as well as changing in Colorado. It provides guidance.
I’m required to say (and its true as you know) that growing marijuana in any form in any manner, including as hemp and including CBD in any of its forms, in spite of street knowledge, is all illegal under federal law. For example, over 100 plants of any size with roots forming is federal mandatory 5 years prison.
As to Colorado State, in general, the feds are assisting the state LEOs in investigations of pot grows. The focus is on pot going out of state. Local LEOs are still focusing on grows entirely within the state, with the product staying in the state, based upon county ordinances, municipal ordinances, and state law. As you know these vary widely, and in many instances contradict the state constitution. Additionally, the LEOs vary in their understanding of the laws, apply them inconsistently, and don’t always use the right method or law for plant counts.
So, safest is probably a personal medical grow. Recreational, although also state-protected with proper compliance, is more dangerous federally.

Finally, on the cautionary end, here’s a real scenario, and not an uncommon one. This is part of what happened in the latest massive pot bust with 74 indicted defendants. The charges involved state racketeering charges. Similarly to conspiracy charges, one person at the bottom of the chain, the small fish, can be legally prosecuted for what was done by those much further up the chain, including selling smaller amounts to people that are sending it out of state. A small fish can be in almost as much jeopardy as those at the top.
As you believed, you were correct in saying that House Bill 17-1220, attached FYI and summarized in this memo, goes into effect 1/1/2018. It was in fact signed by the Governor, not just permitted to become law.
The state purpose of the bill is to crack down on pot going out of state, with particular emphasis on the high plant count caregiver situation. Since I cannot answer for additional limitations for every city and county in Colorado, I’ll be addressing the state law. It will be decided in court whether the locals overstepped or not. I believe local overstepping improperly on state law is clear, but the courts will decide eventually.
With those essential limitation, if you have a particular municipality or county in mind, you’d google for example La Plata marijuana ordinances. Googling “la plata marijuana offenses” readily points to both the County ordinances as well as to the Durango City Ordinances. Before any investment in expensive electric, lights, etc., it is worth a call to the City Clerk or to the County Commissioners with two questions.
First, is the law as posted on line the current one or does it need updating?
Second, are there any changes on the horizon? Changes in the same location over time have been the rule, not the exception. Remember that it applies to the “unincorporated” portions of La Plata and not to inside any city limits. For that, you’d do the same google search with the proper city name inserted. I’m happy to assist as needed.
Sections bracketed [by] square brackets are the author’s comments.
Focusing on HB 17-1220, the new plant count limits, the shortest summary is that the new law as of 1/1/2018 limits all home grows are limited to 12 plants, or in some case 24 plants. This applies to a residence such as a house or an apartment. A single residential unit must have a bathroom, kitchen, place to sleep, and permanent locations for eating, sleeping, living, cooking and sanitation. [I won’t speculate about the old-style of having the bathtub in the kitchen area, or a modern “efficiency”] Of course there may be covenants, lease provisions, etc., also impacting these numbers. The number of adults in the household does not matter, nor does the quantity in an “enhanced rec” permitting larger numbers. I think it is an open question as to whether the affirmative defense of “medically necessary” number of plants, contained in the Constitution is still available.
HB 17-1220 gives reasons for being necessary including local issues like odor, electricity safety and usage, fire hazards risk to first responders, target for criminal activity, and multi-national exploitation of the laws to export large quantities at least into other states. Human trafficking is even mentioned, as well as large amounts of weapons. Of course “children” are mentioned [in spite of the apparent decrease in under-age usage in Colorado].
The general marijuana law, 18-18-406 (3)(a) is amended and (3)(c) is added. The limits include growers, as well as those who allow a grow on property they own occupy or control. Recreational and medical are included, and indoor and outdoor grows are included. The general limit is 12 plants. That does not increase the “6 plant per adult, not more than 3 flowering” from the state constitution.
A “primary caregiver” or a medical marijuana patient with a twenty-four recommendation may grow the 24 in an enclosed locked space, and subject to the limits if any imposed by a city or county.
As to potential penalties for violating this new law, these state violations can be prosecuted by the state criminal court and in municipal court since both state law as well as municipal law can both be violated.
The majority of marijuana crimes are no longer designated as “misdemeanors” or “felonies.” They are classified as “Drug Misdemeanors” or “Drug Felonies.” The most serious, a DF-1, carries a minimum mandatory state prison term of 8 years. A chart of possible penalties for the various levels of pot crimes related to quantity follows.
Levels of offense based upon plant count in the household are:
DF-3 over 30 plants DF-4 over 6 plants and not more than 30 DM-1, drug misdemeanor 1, if not more than 6 plants. 18-18-406 (3)(a)(II)(A) which is in the new law, for a first offense, if more than 12 plants, carries a fine up to $1000.00 is denominated a level 1 Drug Petty Offense.

[yes, this seems contradictory to the DM-1 “not more than 6 plants” over the permitted number]
A second offense or subsequent offense if over 12 plants but not more than 24 plants is a DM-1 according to section (IV)(B). (IV)(C) makes it a DF-3 for a second or subsequent offense over 24 plants extra count.
Some of this does appear contradictory.
One reading of it (proposed by Jeff Wilson, a very bright lawyer) is that the first section and the later section provide for two different types of limits and corresponding crimes. The first section provides limits and penalties for growing a number of plants which might be legal under state law, but illegal under the new limits. For example, a person limited by the new law to twelve plants, with an MD recommendation and state “red card” for 99 plants might be growing 40 plants. That places them 28 over their new-law limit, but “state legal.” The final section deals with plant counts that violate the new law and are not state-legal either. Penalties are provided for both. The wording is poor, unclear, and generally an example of a poorly written piece of legislation.
Keep in mind that these specified numbers are the number of plants greater than the permitted number of plants. So if 12 are permitted, total count, for 2 adults, 18 plants would be 6 plants over, and a DM-1.
One of the complications in pot law in Colorado is that the way in which plants are counted is not the same in the state constitution, the state criminal law, or in this new law. Focusing only upon the new law, HB 17-1220, the size specifications do not match the size specifications and therefore the plant count contained in other Colorado laws, criminal, medical and recreational.
Of course, since the definition of “plant” changes depending upon which law is applied, the definition sections are important. In the new law, a “plant” is a cannabis plant in a cultivating medium, more than 4 inches wide or more than 4′ high or flowering regardless of size. Signs of budding at the nodes in the stem makes it a flowering plant.
“Primary Caregiver” for cultivates or transports for patients must register with the state and comply with all local laws. Forms are all found on the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment website. They are a division of the Department of Revenue. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/medical-marijuana-online-registration-system-frequently-asked-questions-faq and the other pages linked to it are quite useful. They contain both forms and information, and it comes from those tasked with enforcing the pot regulatory system for businesses, caregivers, and more including individual Medical Marijuana licenses. I have found them pleasant and helpful to deal by phone with whether or not you agree with their answers to inquiries. Their interpretation is conservative and strict, going beyond the laws themselves in some situations such as the obligation to report being charged with various crimes. Some municipalities have stricter requirements than the state laws.
While lower level “badged” employees in pot businesses may also be primary caregivers, while those licensed as a business, medical or recreational, cannot also be primary caregivers.
Grows larger than covered by this law, over 24 plants where 24 is permitted must register with the government covering their location if the “locals” require that. Additionally, violation carries the same penalties as C.R.S. 18-18-406 applies to every pot grow including counting plants differently. Registration with the state, starting with the CDPHE website link, is also required. The location cannot be residential. A “primary caregiver” if “otherwise permitted” is limited to 12 plants total residentially, or more than 24 regardless of the number of residents, temporary or not, a the property. Requirements for the 12-24 plant grow must be met,
Section 8.6 appears to contain an error in drafting, and appears to say the opposite of what was intended. It appears to have meant (but does not say) that grows over 24 plants if not otherwise prohibited must meet requirements including registration with the state.

1. The new law appears flawed to me in that it contradicts the state constitution and contradicts other sections of the present marijuana laws contained in C.R.S. 18-18-406.
Possible penalties under the general section are as follows: Note this is a “general chart.” CHART 1

Plant Count Penalties

New Legislation: PLANT COUNT NEW LEGISLATION, SIGNED INTO LAW, EFFECTIVE 1/1/2018

HOUSE BILL 17-1220 BY REPRESENTATIVE(S) Becker K. and Wist, Carver, Esgar, Landgraf, Lawrence, Pabon, Thurlow, Van Winkle, Young, Arndt, Beckman, Covarrubias, Garnett, Ginal, Liston, Lundeen, McKean, Navarro, Nordberg, Pettersen, Ransom, Sias, Willett, Wilson, Gray, Hamner, Hooton, Kennedy, Kraft-Tharp, Neville P., Valdez, Williams D., Duran; also SENATOR(S) Gardner and Fields, Priola, Cooke, Court, Crowder, Hill, Holbert, Lambert, Martinez Humenik, Neville T., Smallwood, Tate, Todd, Williams A., Grantham.
CONCERNING MEASURES TO STOP DIVERSION OF LEGAL MARIJUANA TO THE ILLEGAL MARKET.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Colorado: SECTION I. Legislative declaration.

(1) The general assembly finds and declares that:
(a) Through citizen-initiated measures, Colorado provided its citizens protections for the cultivation and use of medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational marijuana in 2012;
(b) One of the reasons behind these citizen-initiated measures was to erode the black market for marijuana in Colorado; Capital letters indicate new material added to existing statutes; dashes through words indicate deletions from existing statutes and such material not part of act.
(c) The constitutional provisions for both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana provide protections for personal marijuana cultivation, but these provisions are silent on the question of where marijuana plants may be grown or processed for medical or recreational use;
(d) Although the authority for marijuana cultivation for both medical and recreational marijuana is generally limited to six plants per person, some provisions allow individuals to grow more plants. In the medical marijuana code, a patient can grow an “extended plant count” if his or her physician, who makes the medical marijuana recommendation, also determines the patient has a medical necessity for more than six plants. As well, a primary caregiver can grow medical marijuana for each of the patients that he or she serves.
(e) The extended plant count and primary caregiver provisions have created a situation in which individuals are cultivating large quantities of marijuana in residential homes;
(f) These large-scale cultivation sites in residential properties create a public safety issue and are a public nuisance. A site in a residential property can overburden the home’s electrical system, resulting in excessive power use and creating a fire hazard that puts first responders at risk. A site can also cause water damage and mold in the residential property. A site in a residential property can produce a noxious smell that limits the ability of others who live in the area to enjoy the quiet of their homes. Often the site is a rental home, and the renters cause significant damage to the home by retrofitting the home to be used as a large-scale cultivation site. When residential property is used for a large-scale cultivation site, it often lowers the value of the property and thus the property value of the rest of the neighborhood. Finally, a site in a residential property can serve as a target for criminal activity, creating an untenable public safety hazard.
(g) Large-scale, multi-national crime organizations have exploited Colorado laws, rented multiple residential properties for large-scale cultivation sites, and caused an influx of human trafficking and large amounts of weapons as well as the potential for violent crimes in residential neighborhoods;
(h) Large-scale cultivation sites in residential properties have been used to divert marijuana out of state and to children.

(2) Therefore, the general assembly determines that it is necessary to impose reasonable limits on residential marijuana cultivation that do not encroach on the protections afforded Colorado citizens in the Colorado constitution.

How Many Plants Can I Grow in Colorado? How many plants can I grow? How does the new law, HB 17-1221, which takes effect 1/1/2018 impact the number of plants I can grow at home? The purpose of