Filed Under (Medical Marijuana) on 12-06-2012
As an attorney specializing in Colorado medical marijuana law, I receive daily phone calls about various aspects of the Colorado Amendment 20. Recently, I’ve been fielding a spate of calls from patients encountering unexpected police visits. The issue stems from complaints about plants being grown in public view. While this is clearly troubling, patients can follow several simple steps to make sure they stay out of trouble while growing plants to meet their medical need.
No consumption or growing medical marijuana plants in “plain view”
In Colorado, a patient with a valid medical marijuana card may possess up to six marijuana plants for personal use. Some physicians may write a recommendation for a higher number of plants.
Just as patients must consume marijuana in private, so must they grow pot out of public view. Marijuana plants cannot be visible through a crack in a fence, a basement window, or from a second story window, with a neighbor looking down.
A typical scenario for patients
Clients tell me they’re facing this situation: a law enforcement officer knocks on the patient’s front door, saying:
• A neighbor complained about marijuana being grown on site; or
• A neighbor complained of the smell of marijuana; or
• The law enforcement officer saw the plants in the back yard.
In an effort to be transparent and legally compliant, the patient welcomes the officer inside, shows his or her “red card,” and explains all the cultivation is legal. Once inside, law enforcement officers ask to look around and patients grant permission to search their homes and yards.
Inevitably, when officers see the grow, they take clippings and pictures, and then find something illegal about it. If it is outside, the grow might be visible to passersby from the street, taking it out of compliance with Colorado state law. The patient will then be asked to go down to the police station, get fingerprinted and photographed. While frequently the patient is never formally charged, the patient’s fingerprints are now in the computer system of law enforcement for all future identification even though the patient may never actually get charged.
How to avoid problems: talk in the front yard
You cannot grow marijuana plants if they are visible to the public or your neighbors. At the same time, law enforcement officers may come to your door without a legitimate, or legally valid, reason. What’s more, you have no duty or obligation to let law enforcement into your home unless they have a search warrant.
So, the next time a police officer comes to your door and wants to see your plants or tells you about a neighbor’s complaint, ask for a search warrant. If they don’t have one, don’t let them in.
Yes, you must talk to the officers. You cannot hide or pretend you’re not home. But you can walk out your back door, walk around to the front and talk to them in the street. Or, you can talk through the door or window. If you open the door, you may be inviting problems that you have the power and right to avoid.