At least three dozen Colorado Springs residents crowded City Council Chambers on Tuesday to show concern about marijuana grow houses blowing transformers and creating other risks in their neighborhoods.
Police suspect many Cubans are growing medical marijuana here to provide to a Florida drug cartel, said Paul Seeling, of the Newport Heights subdivision.
Seeling lives on Ginger Cove Place, a cul-de-sac with about a dozen homes where excessive power use at a grow house blew a transformer July 23, cutting power to eight families.
The house contained 100 plants - well over the 36 permitted - and had a walled-in garage door, many secondary walls to control the climate and boarded-up windows in the basement, Seeling said.
"The Fire Department made note of that address and will be careful when they go in to be sure they have different exit strategies," he said.
Seeling said two officers who checked the house Aug. 25 told him the growers are Cubans, and they're "finding another Cuban house on a daily basis."
Police weren't available to comment Tuesday, Lt. Catherine Buckley said.
But the matter of Cuban medical marijuana growers arose earlier this summer, when an electrician told the Colorado Springs Utilities board that he had been called to several such houses and feared that blown transformers could start fires.
Pot smuggling busts increased 407 percent after medical marijuana was legalized in Colorado, said a 2014 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
Most of the pot was coming from Denver, Boulder and El Paso counties and was being smuggled primarily to Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas and Wisconsin, reported USA Today on Feb. 14, 2014.
Marijuana can sell for twice as much in states where it is illegal, Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain drug trafficking task force, told USA Today at the time.
Seeling said the city should limit residential grows to 12 plants, as El Paso County does, and should develop ordinances to aggressively control marijuana production.
Also, the city code should subject grow houses in residential areas to permits and inspections to ensure that wiring and equipment meets the standards needed.
"Houses normally have a 100- or 200-amp breaker," Seely said. "Their average power usage is about 30 times what I would use. They're using in one day the amount of power I use in a month. They are stringing industrial-strength wires in these houses to accommodate this.
"What's really needed is criminal charges. In Denver, they found semi-automatic weapons and large quantities of cash in these houses. Those are not folks raising medical marijuana for patients. But they've done their homework and they've got a good cover."
The City Council does not respond immediately to citizen comments, and that policy held true Tuesday.
But the council has enacted a law forbidding manufacture of hash oil with flammable solvents, at the request of police, the Fire Department and Mayor John Suthers. It also is working on how to govern cannabis clubs, at Suthers' request.
So if police and firefighters express concerns about medical pot grow houses, the council undoubtedly will be all ears.