NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Recreational cannabis will be legal in New Mexico in less than six months. What changes can New Mexicans expect with legal marijuana? Colorado officials warn that one major problem associated with legalized marijuana is likely to show up in New Mexico: illegal grow houses.
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Tony Spurlock is the sheriff of Douglas County, south of Denver, and he’s seen the problem first hand. “Grow houses in the early stages when the law was first passed was a huge problem for us,” said Spurlock. “Because people were just coming in and renting houses everywhere and then just hydroponic manufacture of marijuana.”
Illegal marijuana grow houses have popped up all across Colorado including the Denver suburbs. Some neighbors had no idea that something like that was next door.
Brian Reed and his wife have lived in Parker, just south of Denver, for two years. Their quiet neighborhood changed a few months ago. Reed watched as police raided his neighbor’s house. “…they started coming out with these trees. Which turned out to be lots of pot plants,” said Reed.
George Brauchler spent the last eight years as the district attorney for Colorado’s 18th Judicial District. When asked about the biggest surprise of legalizing marijuana, Brauchler says it’s the rise in crime. “The violent crime associated with the illegal transaction of marijuana. The fact that we have 16 murders, including an unsolved murder related to the illegal transaction of an otherwise legalized substance. I mean how can that be?” said Brauchler. “(pot) is like liquid, it’s almost like cash, you can take it almost anywhere and sell it quickly for good money. The further you get away from Colorado and other legalized states, the more money you can make.”
Illegal marijuana growers can be dangerous neighbors. Sheriff Spurlock says grow houses use lots of electricity, water, heat, ventilation, and fans. He also says they use a lot of extension cords which can get hot, catch fire, and burn down a house.
And the legal marijuana market is making it harder to crack down on illegal grow houses. “No longer can they go to the door, smell marijuana or even see marijuana plants in a house, and use that as a vehicle to get inside and continue an investigation. That’s not enough,” said Brauchler.
Even though recreational marijuana won’t be for sale in New Mexico until sometime next year, it’s already legal to grow it for personal use. Law enforcement officials in Colorado say that’s a major mistake. Brauchler has also fought without success to get Colorado lawmakers to allow for the forfeiture of homes that are being used as grow houses.