Statehouse Headliners: Vermont marijuana bill has organized crime loophole used in Colorado

By Guy Page

Organized crime is exploiting a loophole in the Colorado medical marijuana law to establish more than 800 black market marijuana grows, Wendi Roewer, Field Intelligence Officer of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency office in Denver, Colorado, said at a 2018 law enforcement seminar.

The same loopholes exists in the medical marijuana section of  S.54, the Senate “tax and regulate” marijuana legalization bill now under consideration by the Vermont House Government Operations Committee.

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

“Since marijuana was full on legalized in 2012, we have seen a precipitous increase in trafficking organizations settling up large scale operations in Colorado,” Roewer said in her presentation, which is available of You Tube. “The bottom line is that Colorado’s marijuana laws are so permissible, and growing marijuana is so profitable, that many criminal organizations currently control networks consisting of hundreds of grow sites, capable of producing massive amounts of marijuana. All of it is sold on the black market, obviously with have no tax revenue going to the state. Most of it is sold out of state.”

Here’s how the cartels have exploited Colorado’s permissible state laws: Colorado allows any medical marijuana card holder to grow up to six plants. It is legal and easy for virtually any adult to obtain a Colorado MM. The possessor of the card then goes into fullscale indoor cultivation, safe in the knowledge that  1) police aren’t really looking for homegrows and 2) even if police catch him/her with 100 plants, the law does not specifically limit the number of plants grown under one roof.

“There is no mechanism at the state or local level to document homegrows,” Roewer said. “And so traffickers have been able to egregiously exploit the medical marijuana system.” That’s because the person caught with a large-scale grow can simply claim to be part of a co-op: “those are my six plants, those are my mother’s six plants, my brother’s six plants….and oh, my seven friends, too. We have a growing co-op.”

Vermont’s 2018 personal possession law does limit cultivation under one roof to six plants. But S54 as written would permit Colorado-style same exploitation of medical marijuana cards.

As shown on pages 40 and 41 of the version of S.54 approved by the Senate and now in House Government Operations, growing up to nine plants (two mature, seven immature) would be legal for:

A registered patient caregiver, on behalf of a patient
A registered patient (including minor with parent/guardian permission). In fact, minors are permitted two registered patient caregivers, each of whom apparently may grow nine plants.

Most important, S.54 imposes medical marijuana cultivation limits on people, not places. So there is nothing to stop a card holder from growing dozens, even hundreds of plants and telling suspicious police that he’s part of a co-op. And that might be a hard claim to disprove because the proposed law also makes it difficult for police to access registry information:

“Individual names and identifying information about patients and caregivers on the Registry are exempt from public inspection and copying under the Public Records Act and shall be kept confidential. In response to a person-specific or property-specific inquiry by a law enforcement officer or agency made in the course of a bona fide investigation or prosecution, the Board may verify the identities and registered property addresses of the registered patient and the patient’s registered caregiver.”

Note the wording: “the Board may verify.” The board, already invested in the propriety of Vermont’s medical marijuana system, could legally dismiss the questions as not part of a “bona fide investigation.”

Gov. Scott last week put House Government Operations and the full House on notice that he’s unhappy with S.54’s lack of a roadside saliva test, and the three-person composition of the marijuana control board.

Government Operations Committee has taken extensive testimony about S.54, and is likely to wrap up deliberations this week. It is not known (to Headliners, anyway) whether the Colorado loophole has been discussed. Vermonters wishing to bring it to the attention of legislators, including the members of the Government Operations Committee, may contact them at the Vermont General Assembly website.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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