BRECKENRIDGE - A 13-year-old boy's letter of concern with the smell of home-grown marijuana permeating his neighborhood has the Breckenridge Town Council grappling with the logistics of regulating medical marijuana growth in private homes.
Council members considered a highly restrictive ordinance at a work session Tuesday inspired by the 13-year-old's letter, which would set tight regulations around the residential growth of medical marijuana.
"My big concern is smell," Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron said Tuesday.
But the council, which has tried to keep medical marijuana out of residential parts of town, is somewhat limited in its ability to restrict home-growing operations by an amendment to the Colorado Constitution. Amendment 20, approved by voters in 2000, allows licensed patients and their live-in caregivers to grow marijuana plants in their homes for private use.
Tim Berry, the town attorney, told council members he was concerned about the possible legal ramifications of an extremely restrictive private growing policy.
"You could look at a flat prohibition against residential growth," Berry said at Tuesday's work session. "I really, really don't think we have the right to do that. I think this is about as tight as we can get it."
The home-grown marijuana issue was first raised in December, after the council received the letter from the Breckenridge teenager, who asked that his name not be used in this story. The letter explained his frustration with marijuana in his community, from the smell on the gondola to the neighborhoods where children live.
The boy's neighbor, who was growing pot residentially, had an exhaust system that blew the marijuana smell near the boy's front door. The boy said he got tired of the smell and finally wrote the letter to council.
"That was the first time residential growing had ever come to our attention," Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamney said. "We gave (the staff) direction to figure out what we could do about it."
The town staff put together the ordinance presented to the council Tuesday. The council has not yet voted on the measure, but if adopted, it would prohibit privately grown marijuana from being perceptible outside the residence in any way.
Under the policy, medical marijuana could not be perceptible by smell, visually or even by "undue vehicular or foot traffic" near the house where it is grown.
The ordinance would also restrict private growers to the letter of the law as it is set forth in Amendment 20 and would prohibit residential growing in any location accessible to children, visitors or anyone not licensed to possess medical marijuana.
Patients or caregivers growing in a property they do not own would be required to get written permission to grow from the property owner under the ordinance, which also sets guidelines for where and how medical marijuana can be grown on the private property.
Violation of the ordinance regulations would be a misdemeanor.
The proposed ordinance is only the most recent local chapter in the statewide saga of medical marijuana regulation, which has created a maze of questions around the perimeters of federal, state and local regulatory authority.
Breckenridge and the county have tabled discussions concerning the regulation of commercial medical marijuana centers and related questions until summer, anticipating amendments to a medical marijuana bill passed during the 2010 Legislative session.
The bill does not address residential growth of medical marijuana or local governments' authority to regulate it.
The town council will take a first vote on the residential grow ordinance presented Tuesday at its next meeting, Jan. 25.