Nipped in the bud
According to a press release from U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh's office, Colorado has been having a little trouble with big, illegal marijuana grow operations. Over the past six weeks, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations have worked with state- and county-level law enforcement to arrest 12 people in connection with five illegal outdoor grow operations. One of these was the operation discovered in Pike National Forest (CannaBiz, Aug. 26). They've also arrested another 20 people from the towns of Cotopaxi and Westcliffe.
In total, collaborative operations found nearly 20,000 plants and over 650 pounds of flower, plus firearms and an undisclosed amount of cash. According to the press release, nearly all of the 32 people arrested were from outside Colorado, and many of them were foreign nationals. The release colors the Cotopaxi/Westcliffe arrests as hitting a major drug trafficking organization — many of the 20 arrested were Cuban nationals, and the weed produced was going to Florida both by car and by UPS.
These busts and the collaboration between local and federal forces make good on pledges in the August 2013 "Cole Memo," issued by former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, which outlined eight enforcement priorities for federal enforcement of marijuana laws.
"These joint federal-state law enforcement actions against large illicit marijuana grows represent a new phase in the challenges facing law enforcement after Colorado's legalization and regulation of marijuana under state law," Walsh said in the release.
"Illegal activity of this kind underscores the need for strong, joint law enforcement efforts by federal and state authorities to identify, cut off and destroy the efforts of drug trafficking organizations to use Colorado as a 'source state' for export of illegal marijuana around the country."
In a compliance sweep of 30 dispensaries, Denver Police found seven pot shops selling to customers younger than 21, according to an Oct. 1 Westword article. These are the first major violations of the marijuana age limit since recreational sales began in January 2014.
For comparison, the Westword article notes that a 2006 sweep of liquor stores found 11 of 21 businesses noncompliant, and a 2012 study found nine of 56 bars were breaking the law.
Westword writer Michael Roberts called the sweep and the local media response "a wake-up call to the cannabis industry — and a reminder that what might be of small interest in other businesses is capable of causing a big stir in this one."