Pot: not just another houseplant


ALAMOSA — In line with other communities in Colorado’s pot-legal state, the City of Alamosa is considering an ordinance limiting the number of marijuana plants in any one residence to 12.

The proposed ordinance solely deals with individual marijuana cultivation. The city currently does not allow retail or manufacturing operations for recreational or medical marijuana.

The Alamosa city council discussed the proposed ordinance during a work session Wednesday night and received some immediate feedback from community members during the council’s subsequent regular meeting.

Cynthia Walsh and Dr. Terry Wiley said a 12-plant limit was too generous and Shanna Hobbs said the proposed ordinance — especially the restriction to marijuana growing indoors — was ridiculous.

City Attorney Erich Schwiesow reminded the city council that it is legal in Colorado for adults over age 21 to grow up to six plants for their own recreational use or as many as 99 plants for their own medical marijuana use if they have a “prescription” for medical marijuana. Four adults over age 21 in a household could grow as many as 24 plants under state regulations.

Schwiesow said other Colorado communities have restricted the number of plants allowable in any residence, with some enacting more stringent limitations than Alamosa is proposing. He said Alamosa’s proposed ordinance is based in large part on Douglas County’s.

The 12-plant limit makes sense because most households are occupied by two adults who would be permitted to have six plants each, Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks explained.

Some of the reasons to limit marijuana plant grows, Schwiesow added, include: impact to the building itself such as humidity, moisture and potentially mold build up; effect of odors on the neighborhood; effect on the members of the household.

Alamosa’s proposed ordinance would restrict marijuana growing to:

  • 12 plants per residence/associated structure
  • primary residential structure or associated with the primary residence such as a garage — no off-site grows or outdoors — “you can only grow it in the house you are living in,” Brooks explained
  • attached buildings (like a garage) of no greater than 50 square feet, which Schwiesow said might be too small because most garages are larger than 50 square feet — “in some respects growing in a detached garage may be preferable to growing in your house.”
  • square footage and volume limitations of 100 square feet (10x10 feet for example) and no more than 1,000 cubic feet (no more than 10 feet high) — “These plants can get very, very large,” Schwiesow said. He explained that the best way to measure would be by measuring the drip line of the plants.
  • indoor space except the bathroom, kitchen or primary bedroom
  • fully enclosed and lock-able
  • compliance with building and fire codes (can’t string non-code electrical wires all over the house to facilitate grow lights, for example, Schwiesow said)
  • compliance with ventilation in city codes
  • low-heat lighting systems such as LED or fluorescent (to prevent fire hazards)
  • no compressed flammable gas like butane
  • imperceptible — not visible, odorous (can’t smell it outside the building) or causing light pollution, also not creating undo foot traffic (if the grow was creating much foot traffic, that might indicate the person was selling it in the “gray market,” which would not be legal, Schwiesow said)

No personal marijuana cultivation would be allowed in multi-family dwellings such as apartment complexes and duplexes.

Councilors asked Schwiesow about those with medical marijuana cards whose doctors believe they need more than 12 plants to meet their needs. Schwiesow said the person could grow more than that, just not in the city. He compared it to someone owning 50 tires, which would not be illegal in itself but would not be permitted in the city limits.

“There are many things that are legal to do except they run afoul of the city’s ordinances, and we are certainly entitled to enforce those,” Schwiesow said.

Brooks said the staff had a lot of debate over this proposed ordinance with the staff trying to balance public safety with the fact marijuana use is legal in Colorado and people can grow their own. She said some people have argued this is just another plant, so why should it be treated differently.

“It’s not your normal house plant,” she said.

She said one of the most debated areas of the ordinance was the multifamily dwellings prohibition, which she personally believed was necessary to protect the families living in apartment complexes.

She said some landlords might not care that much about what goes on in their buildings, and tenants could become marginalized because they have nowhere else they could afford to move to.

While it might be a person’s own business to grow marijuana in their own home, marijuana cultivation in an apartment building could potentially impact other people, she added.

Schwiesow said some cities completely prohibit marijuana cultivation in multi-family dwellings while others prohibit it in common areas only.

Alamosa’s proposed ordinance does not require landlords to give permission to tenants to grow marijuana in single-family rental residences. Schwiesow said city staff felt that was between the landlord and tenant.
“I thought that was too much like ‘big brother’,” he said.

Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley asked how many people are growing marijuana in Alamosa who would be affected by this ordinance.

“I don’t think we have any idea,” Schwiesow said.

Brooks added that the city is only aware when there are complaints.

“We are not going to be knocking on doors to count plants,” she said.

Councilman Ty Coleman asked about fines and penalties for violating the ordinance. Schwiesow said that is not specified in the ordinance, “but we need to look at our fine/fee schedule for ordinance violations. That would need to be amended to include violations of this ordinance.”

Violations of this ordinance would be in line with violations of other city ordinances, he added.
Coleman suggested that before ordinance enforcement began, the city should try to educate the public. Schwiesow agreed that that was a good idea.

“Code enforcement is not a club,” he said.

Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes said if the city received a complaint about a possible violation of this ordinance, officers would probably first perform a “knock and talk” to speak with the resident.

“Most people would work with us and help us remedy the situation,” he said. “We would try to work with them first.”

He said the city already receives some complaints but not a lot.

Brooks said education is very important.

“There’s a lot of people that want to do it the right way,” she said.
Schwiesow added, “We are not trying to bust people. We are trying to make a livable community.”
Councilman Jan Vigil said he wanted to make sure the public had an opportunity to share comments on this proposed ordinance with the council.

Three residents shared comments Wednesday night.

Walsh advocated for less than 12 plants and suggested requiring renters to obtain landlord permission to grow marijuana in a rental home. She encouraged the council to control marijuana to send a message that Alamosa is going to remain a family oriented community.

Dr. Wiley said the marijuana of today is so much more potent that Mexico is now buying it from us, rather than the other way around. He said 12 plants of marijuana can produce 384 ounces and those 24 pounds can translate to 23,400 joints. In comparison, a two-pack-a-day smoker uses 14,600 cigarettes a year.

“I think that’s very generous to allow 12 plants,” Wiley said.

He urged the council to reduce that number.

Hobbs said the number was already low enough. She said any excess marijuana not consumed immediately could be stored for an unlimited amount of time.

She said it would be better to grow marijuana outdoors and take advantage of the sunlight than restrict it to indoor cultivation, “which is ridiculous.”

She added, “People should have the right to decide what plants they grow,” whether it is a rhododendron or marijuana.

“It is a flowering herb,” she said.

She said a lot of people go from opioid use to marijuana, which is more healthful for them. She added that many deaths are attributed to tobacco and alcohol but none directly to marijuana use.

Hobbs added that Alamosa needs jobs, and the marijuana industry could provide jobs that require little training and provide sustainable wages.

“I find it strange we are still talking about how to limit marijuana and on the agenda tonight are three decisions for liquor licenses,” she said. “It’s offensive really and sad.”