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  Volume No. 14 Issue No. 7 July 2017  

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  Marijuana raids rise in eastern El Paso County
  By Lindsey Harrison

   Since the passage of Colorado Amendment 64 in 2012, marijuana has been legal in the state for personal use in limited amounts. The passage of the amendment has caused some unintended consequences, especially for law enforcement agencies.
   
   Jeff Schulz, an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy, has worked with the Metro Vice Narcotics Intelligence Unit for two years. He said one unintended consequence is the uninformed visitor to Colorado who is not up to date with regulations regarding marijuana grow operations.
   
   “The attitude and understanding from people coming from different states is that they think they can come here and grow whatever they want,” Schulz said. When the county sheriff’s office gets wind that an operation is out of compliance with the 99-marijuana-plant-limit, the MVNIU goes out to investigate, he said.
   
   In the last 18 months, the unit has conducted 80 raids with search warrants on properties throughout the county; each time, they have made an arrest, Schulz said. About half the properties were located in Colorado Springs, and the rest were in the outlying areas of the county, he said.
   
   The raids do not include bigger operations handled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, most of those are connected to drug organizations, Schultz said.
   
   Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, said the idea that massive grows housed in Colorado are linked to bigger organized drug operations is a farce. “What we have historically seen with the drug war is that, whenever there is a big bust, law enforcement uses that as a big public relations campaign,” he said. “Families that had legal grows are now getting raided for grows that are suddenly illegal, and they (the families) are getting falsely labeled.”
   
   While marijuana grow operations can be a problem from a law enforcement standpoint, Schultz said there is only so much intervention the agencies can provide. “We have tried everything from posting signs about what would make it (a marijuana grow operation) illegal to town hall meetings with the sheriff,” he said. “The people who are doing this do not care about our community. They are here for one purpose, which is to grow marijuana and then leave.”
   
   That mentality has negatively impacted the housing market in a variety of ways, most noticeably conditions of the properties involved in the grow operations, Schulz said. People purchase or rent out properties for the grow operations, but eventually they become uninhabitable, he said. “They run electrical lines without permits, they do a lot of stuff with extension cords and electrical tape, and there is almost always a mold problem,” Schulz said.
   
   “We have not gotten to the point where a (raided) house could possibly come back to be livable again.”
   
   Warf said growers often feel they need to carry a weapon or hire guards to protect legal marijuana grow operations because law enforcement agencies are not quick to respond to a call for help from any cannabis-related business or property. “People may have noticed that absurd amount of (response) time and taken their own methods to protect their property,” he said.
   
   Schulz said they have not encountered armed guards patrolling any properties, but security systems and surveillance cameras are often used.
   
   At the start of 2017, Colorado drastically reduced the amount of allowable marijuana plants from 495 to 99, which is still higher than any other state, Schulz said. However, a new bill passed in March brings that limit down to 12 plants per residential property; the bill goes into effect Jan.1, 2018, he said.
   
   Schulz said this is a step in the right direction on the war against illegal marijuana grow operations. "Eventually, we'll make an impact on the illegal operations,” he said. “But it is hard to see now."
   
   Warf said there is always the impetus on the grower to be aware of the changing laws, but the newest regulation to limit the plant count to 12 will likely negatively impact people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
  
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