This is one of a number of articles the World Journal will present looking at the downside issues associated with Amendment 64.
HUERFANO — Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman says his office had dealt with some increase in petty crime in the wake of legalized recreational marijuana, but there are other effects which continue to keep them busy. In an interview with the World Journal earlier this year, Newman said providing an escort deputy to accompany Steve Channel, of the Huerfano County Planning Office, on some of his rounds in the county is something new, following passage of Amendment 64. He said it doesn’t happen every day, or even every week, but at times a deputy has traveled with Channel up to three days in a single week as he inspects various locations within the county where illegal marijuana is being grown or reported. While Newman said there has been some incidents of shoplifting and panhandling which he believes are associated with a new transient population in the county, it is trespassing, water theft and people not knowing, or observing local and state laws regarding marijuana that are the biggest issues. “Legal marijuana,” says Newman, “ is just attracting people who have no jobs, or no plans, moving here because of legal
marijuana.” He said this new population is straining services and resources as these new residents get here and cannot find employment. “Many of these people need help, social and financial help, that we just cannot provide,” Newman said. Another major concern is illegal marijuana grows in the county; not like the large one recently discovered and destroyed in the national forest, or a 700 plus plant operation busted last month; but people growing on their recently purchased property and illegally growing on other people’s property. Newman said his office has notified more than one of out-of-state-property owner regarding marijuana growing on their land just to find out the property owner was not aware of the activity. People need to be aware of what is happening on their land, he said. Newman said this is a recent and ongoing problem in many areas of the county, including Navajo, which he said has protective covenants against it. Newman said in addition to the trespassing issues, the theft of rights-protected water from streams, creeks and private wells is another illegal activity that has to be dealt with. “People who want to grow pot, have to have a legal source of water,” Newman said He said one of the largest problems is new residents and property owners who do not know about Huerfano County restrictions dealing with recreational marijuana growing. In Huerfano County, for example, Newman said, a residence with a structure may have six marijuana plants growing per person, but county ordinances have restricted that amount to 12 total plants per household. People need to know the state and local laws, Newman stresses. Property rights and usage are different state to state, and people can’t just buy a plot of land and start growing marijuana on it here in Huerfano County, he said. He explained, even those people growing medicinal marijuana in the county have to obtain a conditional use permit from the county commissioners to grow over the 12 plant per household limit. “It’s not pot I’m against,” Newman said,” it’s the results of what happens; shoplifting, trespassing, water theft and the like. If you follow the law, you’re protected; if you violate the law, we’ll be here to step in.” He said there has not yet been any kind of major crime increase since recreational marijuana became legal, but he said the county and city / town population centers here do have a drug problem. Newman said heroin use and associated crimes such as drug dealing, burglaries and thefts are a priority concern for county law enforcement. “Heroin use has surpassed meth, cocaine and prescription drug abuse in Huerfano County,” Newman said. Walsenburg Police Chief Tommie McLallen has said there have been no major crimes in the city directly tied to recreational marijuana. Some weeks ago there was a push-in home invasion at a private residence where two masked thieves stole medical marijuana from a fully licensed patient. He said, as of October, there have been no DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs) related to marijuana. Some residents have said they have had marijuana plants stolen from their yards but have not filed city police reports concerning the thefts. McLallen said the issue he hears most about from Walsenburg citizens are complaints about the marijuana smell coming from the larger medical marijuana grows in the city. The main issue in the City of Walsenburg continues to be the city council’s struggle to come up with an ordinance that could limit the amount of plants grown per household while still maintaining the letter of the law of Amendment 64. Recently the city council removed one such proposed ordinance from their agenda and defeated a second ordinance that would have called for higher water rates of recreational marijuana growers within the city limits. City leaders say they have safety concerns about potential thefts and violence associated with thieves trespassing on private property to steal marijuana plants. Currently the city council is reviewing other city’s ordinances that restrict the amount of space on a residential property used to grow recreational marijuana, without addressing the number of individual plants. Colorado law allows for each resident over the age of 21 to have six marijuana plants, three in flowering state and three still growing.