Authorities said Friday that they raided hundreds of black market marijuana operations in Colorado that flouted the nation’s cannabis legislation by growing tens of thousands of plants in Denver-area houses and selling it out of state.
Investigators seized more than 80,000 plants and 4,500 pounds of harvested marijuana, state and federal prosecutors said in a news conference. Officers raided 247 houses and eight companies and arrested 42 people in Denver and seven neighboring counties.
State law permits up to 12 marijuana plants per house for individual use, but some of the houses had over 1,000 and many had hundreds, U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said.
Colorado and other states have broadly legalized marijuana usage but it remains illegal under federal law. That has created tension between some state and federal officials, and a booming black market for marijuana.
However George Brauchler, district attorney for the south and east Denver suburbs, said the investigation was a joint state-federal operation, not the U.S. Department of Justice imposing its will over Colorado.
“Make no mistake, we are equal partners in this,” Brauchler said.
State and federal officials said the almost 3-year investigation showed that prohibited marijuana trafficking mushroomed after voters approved recreational usage in 2012.
Dunn said Colorado has been the epicenter for black market marijuana nationwide.
Brauchler cautioned that Colorado is becoming “the wild wild West of marijuana.” He explained the provision in the law that enables small-scale home marijuana farming opened the door to big, illegal procedures.
Brauchler cautioned that other states considering legalizing marijuana could expect the same but added he was not trying to discourage them from doing so.
“I believe states are eligible to do anything they need,” he explained. “But they need to know the fact of the matter.”
“Did they run a survey of prohibited marijuana cultivators to determine why they chose to function where they did?” He explained. “Are they able to know whether those operations existed before legalization or not?”
Tvert blamed the illegal operations on states that still prohibit marijuana, and said if they legalized and controlled it as Colorado does, there would be small illegal production.
Dunn said researchers plan to use federal forfeiture laws to seize 41 homes, 25 vehicles and $2.2 million in money joined to the marijuana operations.
He explained the 41 houses have an average market value of $400,000.
“These grow operations aren’t occurring in abandoned houses or poor parts of the metro region,” he explained. “All these are happening in middle and upper-class areas where a lot of us live and raise families, and they’re happening all over the metro area.”
Sixteen of these suspects were arrested on federal drug charges and 26 on state charges.
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