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Cops call for moratorium on new marijuana laws after blizzard of legislation

July 31, 2016 Updated: August 1, 2016 at 6:41 am
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Colorado law enforcement agencies say ever-changing marijuana regulations have them overwhelmed.

They're asking the state for a reprieve.

In May, heads of Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the County Sheriffs of Colorado and Colorado District Attorneys' Council wrote a letter to the "Members of Legislative Leadership" seeking a two-year moratorium on new marijuana regulations in order to bring all officers into compliance with enforcement expectations.

Officers "cannot keep up with the quantity and speed of constantly changing marijuana laws," their letter said, noting 81 bills have been introduced in the last four years.

Rapid-fire legislation has created what Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson, a member of CACP, calls a "cavernous void" between what the state is proposing and the affect it has on the people charged with enforcing those laws.

"There's no cartilage between the bones here," Jackson said. "The legislature is completely responsible for that."

"If legislature keeps slamming out all these bills, they're going to keep law enforcement lost," Jackson said. Some agencies are turning away from training until things "settle down" he said.

He fears the goal may be to cause such "marijuana fatigue" that agencies won't aggressively enforce the laws. And if that's the goal, "that's where we are," Jackson said.

In many cases, those who are loudly cracking down on illegal marijuana activity are criticized, Jackson said, citing Pueblo County Sheriff's Office as an example.

The office has busted about 40 illegal marijuana grows since March, some of which have led to federal indictments. But other agencies are not following their lead.

In a community meeting this week to inform citizens about recent marijuana laws, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder said he was unaware of Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers' promise of "hundreds" of marijuana busts this summer.

Still, the county is conducting them, and working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to do it, Elder said. In fact, "There's thousands of plants being seized, there's hundreds of thousands of grams of refined marijuana seeds," being removed from the market, he said. But "we're not disclosing a total number of busts."

"We're working the problem but we're working at a risk-averse position," Elder said.

With such murky laws, the county fears lawsuits from marijuana growers, according to Elder and his sergeant, Emory "Ray" Gerhart.

Gerhart explained it this way: If authorities seize plants during an arrest but charges are later dropped, there's no property to return to the grower, which exposes police to lawsuits.

"If I come into your house and I take your plants, we're not going to take care of it," Gerhart said. "We're not going to put them in a greenhouse and put them in lights and water."

So far, Pueblo offenders are accepting plea deals, Gerhart said, meaning they don't get their plants returned, but "sooner or later, somebody is going to take that to trial and make some interesting case laws."

"At some point, people are going to get fed up with it (Amendment 64). I'm fed up with it. I'm not fed up with it to the point that I'm willing to risk millions of dollars in lawsuits over marijuana plants," Elder said.

Jackson said those fears could be quelled by better training and an assigned "marijuana expert" to keep local governments up-to-date on new laws, but that requires "involvement and leadership" from the state.

"Anytime you make all these little changes, how do you train 15,000 peace officers," Jackson asked.

Communities are also suffering under the changes, the letter from police organizations said.

Illegal home grows are popping up in neighborhoods across Colorado, officials said. Growers are altering homes, burdening electrical systems, polluting the septic system and smuggling drugs out of state, they said.

Recognizing those issues, Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey recently asked city council to consider stricter regulations on residential home grows to help prevent illegal activity and give the city teeth to prosecute when needed.

The letter also cites concerns about the potency of edibles leading to overconsumption and hospitalizations. That fear is not off the mark.

A study published last week in the online medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found there has been an increase of young kids making emergency room visits after accidentally consuming marijuana. Colorado laws on labeling and child-resistant packaging aren't working as well as advertised, a Denver Post analysis of that study found.

A solution has not yet been offered.

"Doctors who continue to dole out irresponsible extended plant counts" also made law enforcement's list of concerns in their letter. But state officials have started addressing that.

Four Colorado physicians, including one in Colorado Springs, had their licenses suspended this month after the Colorado Medical Board said they wrongfully allowed hundreds of people to grow extra medical marijuana plants. One doctor authorized at least 400 people to grow 75 or more marijuana plants from Jan. 1 to June 12, the Medical Board's suspension order said.

A judge has since blocked those suspensions, allowing the doctors to practice medicine, but a hold on their marijuana prescriptions remains in place.

Problems will only continue to build as everyone tries to make sense of the laws, Jackson said. A moratorium new laws, at the very least, will give people a chance to catch up, he said.

Though the group's letter hasn't received a response, Jackson said they plan to push it again in December, ahead of the start of the next legislative session.

"We're asking the legislature to slow this train down so we can understand it," Jackson said. "This is not an effort to repeal (Amendment 64), we're trying to make this work."

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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