Since Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, companies and individuals alike scrambled to start growing their own cannabis crops for wholesale, retail, or personal use. In fact, over 500 tons of marijuana were grown in Colorado during 2017, and experts predict that volume will continue increasing to meet an ever-growing domestic and global demand for cannabis and cannabis-infused products.
Even though marijuana is legal, cannabis cultivation is still highly regulated. So those who attempt to grow crops, whether it’s in a basement or on a sprawling multi-acre commercial farm, must follow Colorado marijuana growing laws or suffer the legal consequences. If you’re considering a career in cannabis cultivation, or if you’re curious about growing cannabis in your own home, here are a few tips to help you stay legal and compliant.
Laws for home growing
At this time, Colorado allows medical marijuana patients, caregivers, and all adults over 21 to cultivate cannabis on private property for medical and/or recreational use (government-issued identification is required to prove age). However, each adult is limited to growing just six recreational plants, up to 12 per residence. Cultivating marijuana for medical purposes requires that the grower obtain a medical marijuana card from the Colorado Department of Public Health. Additionally, homegrown plants must be secured in an enclosed area not visible or accessible to children or visitors.
While these limitations may seem straightforward, they can be tricky. Cities and municipalities can pass and enforce their own rules that might be more conservative than state laws. Landlords, homeowners associations, and real estate covenants can also place restrictions on home cannabis growing. Lastly, any home growing operations must comply with fire, building, and electrical codes and must not become a nuisance to neighbors. If you’re in doubt about which rules and regulations apply to you and your residence, consult with an attorney specializing in cannabis law or contact your city officials.
Laws for commercial cultivation
Despite the fact that the largest commercial cannabis farm grows marijuana in an open 36 acre outdoor space, the majority of crops are grown in secured indoor facilities. These greenhouses and warehouses are equipped not only to keep the product safe from theft, but to ensure a more bountiful and profitable crop. The most sophisticated facilities feature integrated irrigation, HVAC, specialized lighting, and other environmental controls for quality and consistency. Crops are required to meet certain specifications and be lab-certified before they’re made available to wholesalers and retailers.
The best practices for starting a commercial cultivation business are in some ways similar to growing at home. You need to observe local jurisdictional regulations that may supercede state laws, and contact city and county officials to obtain any necessary licenses. Setting up the initial business entity is expensive on both state and local levels because the requirements encompass multiple licensing fees, fees for performing background checks on owners and investors, and specialized insurance coverage. Additionally, the land on which the crops will be grown must be appropriately zoned for commercial cannabis cultivation. Zoning laws will also dictate whether outdoor cultivation is allowed.
Although Colorado was one of the very first states to legalize marijuana use and cultivation for medical purposes, and therefore has managed cannabis cultivation regulations since 2000, laws are still evolving as the market and number of producers grow. For example, new rules implemented in 2018 add new requirements for training employees of cultivation facilities and dispensaries, in addition to regulating how products are tested for contaminants. For the most up-to-date information on growing cannabis in Colorado, consult with an authority before attempting to start your cannabis crop.