Drug enforcement officers believe Colorado is becoming a major hub for illegal marijuana sales throughout the U.S., according to news reports. An article on Denver’s CBS4, “Colorado Medical Marijuana Supplying Illegal Drugs To Other States,” says that marijuana seized in Virginia and New York has been linked to Colorado dispensaries.
And in announcing a 59-count indictment earlier this month against 11 people accused of running a multi-state pot distribution ring that included black-market sales of medical marijuana, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said in a statement, “It is becoming clear that, as predicted in 2010 legislative hearings, Colorado is becoming a significant exporter of marijuana to the rest of the country,” John Ingold reported in The Denver Post.
Released earlier this month, the indictment accused the 11 individuals of violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, of moving “hundreds of pounds” of marijuana through the U.S. mail and on the ground to states from Arizona to Florida to Massachusetts, and of operating as long ago as 2008, Ingold writes.
The indictment alleged that at least 40 pounds of that marijuana came from the Silver Lizard dispensary in Denver. The indictment also accused Silver Lizard’s manager, Leon Cisneros, of failing to pay $16,000 in taxes owed from medical marijuana sales, and of falsifying documents to cover his trail.
Ingold writes: “This is not the first time medical-marijuana dispensaries in Colorado have been linked to black-market sales.”
An earlier Denver Post article by Kirk Mitchell and Ryan Parker says that the state’s medical marijuana industry has led to illegal drug networks that are selling pot throughout the country, and according to regional officials, that shows “that state laws aren’t keeping the drug in the hands of people entitled to use it.”
Mitchell and Parker report that a review of data gathered over a two-year period by a Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) team found “more than 70 instances” in which medical marijuana was diverted to criminal drug operations. In that report, the Drug Enforcement Administration suggested Colorado was on its way to becoming a primary source for high-grade marijuana throughout the country. The report said medical marijuana has been diverted to illegal use in 23 states, by Colorado patients, caregivers, and dispensaries.
RMHIDTA director Tom Gorman said, “We felt it was probably being diverted, but didn’t expect it to be this pronounced, especially with such a small-scale study. This is just the tip of the iceberg,” as Mitchell and Parker report. They go on to write:
But Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, said Colorado has the most complex and strict medical marijuana laws in the country. If medical pot is being sold illegally, he said, officials need to crack down on offenders.
‘It’s just disingenuous to say that marijuana didn’t exist in other states and that all of a sudden it does because of medical marijuana laws in Colorado,’ Vicente said.
The Rocky Mountain HIDTA, which coordinates local, state and federal drug enforcement activities in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming , cited drug arrests in which seized pot originated from cities including Colorado Springs, Denver, Longmont, Boulder, Avon, Thornton and Carbondale.
Law enforcement officials have seized hundreds of pounds of medical marijuana that was shipped to the East Coast, Mitchell and Parker write, and Chicago police said medical pot was now being shipped to Illinois from Colorado as often as it used to be from California and Oregon.
Thornton police Sgt. Jim Gerhart, who serves on the North Metro Task Force, told The Denver Post the number of illegal marijuana cases has exploded in the last two years. “It’s becoming a huge, huge problem,” he said. He added that at the local law enforcement level, “It feels like it’s spinning out of control in a lot of ways.”
CBS4 quotes Medical Marijuana Industry Group spokesman Michael Elliott as saying, “As the most regulated industry in Colorado, we applaud the efforts of law enforcement to prevent illegal distribution.” Elliott told The Denver Post that although illegal marijuana use is increasing through the U.S., it has been decreasing “among kids in Colorado” and may have helped lower the suicide rate in the state.
In a related matter, in an August 21 article in The Denver Post, John Ingold writes that federal officials revealed last Tuesday that firefighters battling the Waldo Canyon fire earlier this summer “stumbled across” a large-scale marijuana garden. It comprised 22 acres of national forest land, including about 7,500 marijuana plants, according to a news release, he writes. Some of the plants were destroyed in the fire, which destroyed 346 homes and 18,247 acres of land. Investigators removed the rest of the plants.
At the same time as officials made that announcement, Ingold writes, federal officials in Colorado announced they were part of a national effort called Operation Mountain Sweep, whose goal is to find and destroy illegal marijuana being grown on public land.
“Use of the public lands for marijuana cultivation is an environmental crime as well as a violation of our nation’s anti-drug laws,” Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said in a statement. He added that anyone involved in that activity is endangering public safety and harming wild lands, and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
So far this year in Colorado, federal investigators have seized 1,400 marijuana plants growing on federal lands and also confiscated 103 pounds of processed marijuana and more than $350,000 in cash. Earlier this month, authorities in Pueblo County swarmed one of the largest marijuana gardens ever found on public land in Colorado. The Pueblo County Sheriff’s office announced that raid netted more than 13,000 plants.
Image by eggrole (Mark).