Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday signed legislation that limits growing marijuana at home to 12 plants, a top agenda item for his administration this year.
The legislation was somewhat controversial, as a handful of lawmakers argued that it would negatively impact medical marijuana patients who have been granted the ability to grow more than 12 plants.
The bill was amended to allow medical cannabis patients and caregivers to cultivate up to 24 plants if they have a doctor's recommendation, register with the state and have permission from their local jurisdiction.
But for the average recreational marijuana grower, the 12-plant limit will take effect in 2018. Both El Paso County and Colorado Springs already have local ordinances that limit the home grow plant count to 12.
"At a certain point we are no longer the Wild West," Hickenlooper said at a bill signing ceremony at the Capitol. "I don't think it's a good thing for Colorado to have the loosest set of laws around part of the regulatory framework around marijuana."
A first violation would be a petty offense subject to a $1,000 fine. Second or subsequent offenses would carry a misdemeanor penalty for an unregistered home-grow that is more than 12 plants up to 24. Second or subsequent offenses for more than 24 plants would carry a felony penalty.
Hickenlooper highlighted the issue as a priority agenda item because he has been afraid of inviting federal intervention. Black market growers have been using Colorado's lenient marijuana laws to grow large amounts of plants and then illegally divert the product to other states.
Colorado law allows patients to grow up to 99 plants if their doctor determines that there is a medical necessity for more than six plants. A caregiver can grow medical marijuana for each of the patients they serve.
Hickenlooper also signed a separate bill that provides $6 million annually to local law enforcement agencies through grants to enforce the so-called "gray market."
"These bills are a big step in eliminating the black market, tightening up our regulatory system to make sure that that kind of criminal behavior does not go forward," the governor said.
There was a significant amount of compromise with the bill as it made its way through the legislative process. Lawmakers started by making any offense a felony, then they lowered a first offense to a petty offense, and then they reduced second or subsequent offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Greg Duran, with the Cannabis Patients Alliance, said of the legislation, "We created something that is livable for everybody," speaking on behalf of medical cannabis patients.
Colorado is more generous than other states that allow home grows. California, for example, limits home grows to six plants.
A Keating Research poll that was released during the legislative session found that there is broad support for limiting home grows to 12 plants. Colorado voters favor the 12-plant limit by 21 points, 57 percent to 36 percent, according to the survey.
"This is a kind of collaborative lawmaking that I'm proud of, that we expect from Colorado," Hickenlooper said. "It's the reason we're able to respond effectively and efficiently."