Over the course of last week, 42 people were arrested by federal agents and dozens of police departments in one of the largest actions ever taken against Colorado’s illegal cannabis market.
The sweeping wave of arrests started May 22 and lasted for three days. In a statement on the operation, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado Jason Dunn called it “one of the largest black market marijuana enforcement actions in Colorado history.”
“Colorado has become the epicenter of black market marijuana in the United States,” said Dunn. “It’s impacting communities, it’s impacting neighborhoods and it’s impacting public safety. But this investigation may be just the tip of the iceberg. We will therefore continue to pursue black market growers and prosecute them to the full extent of the law.”
The Department of Justice noted that, during the last two years, law enforcement had already conducted over 250 searches. A new wave of searches started last week with arrests commencing on Wednesday. By Friday, 42 alleged cannabis offenders were in custody facing a variety of state and federal charges.
Twenty-six of the defendants will face charges from the state of Colorado, and the remaining 16 are looking at federal prison. Some of those facing federal charges had more than 100 plants. If convicted, they will face an automatic mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. But worse, the maximum could see them serve a 40-year sentence.
The implications of the crackdown are clear: In the age of legal cannabis, there are still people who could spend the rest of their lives in prison over a nonviolent marijuana cultivation offense. According to the DOJ, some of the defendants facing federal charges for cultivating more than 1,000 plants are looking at a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
What the Feds Found
Most of the enforcement actions happened not too far from Denver. Just north and east of metro Denver, Adams County was home to 120 of the search warrants executed. Just south of the metro area, Arapahoe County saw 63 search warrants executed. Those two counties made up the bulk of the search warrants executed last week, as 70 additional searches took place across six other counties.
The searched netted a massive haul. Federal agents and their supporting local police seized over 80,000 marijuana plants from all the separate actions. In addition, law enforcement seized 4,500 pounds of “finished marijuana,” or dried cannabis herb ready to consume. At roughly $2,000 a pound on the underground market, the finished pounds alone could be worth $9,000,000. Add to that whatever those 80,000 plants would have produced and you’re talking a massive amount of money.
“Unfortunately, Colorado is no longer known for its beautiful mountains and scenery,” said DEA Denver Division Special Agent in Charge William T. McDermott in the statement. “Now it is known for marijuana and other illegal manufacturing and distribution of controlled substances. This investigation highlights that law enforcement and prosecutors are committed to the rule of law and ensuring Colorado returns to its former standing.”
Cannabis & Federal Asset Forfeiture
In addition to all the pot they seized, the feds are looking to make big money off the forfeitures attached to the charges. That includes 41 homes. Given that Zillow puts the median home price in Colorado at $380,000, the value of the real estate seized is worth way more than the weed.
Law enforcement also seized $2,160,776.89 in cash, 25 vehicles and three pieces of jewelry, all with forfeiture actions pending.
Mason Tvert led Colorado’s effort to legalize cannabis and currently serves as the VP of c
Tvert was also quick to note this all wasn’t legal cannabis’s fault.
“This type of illegal, clandestine cannabis activity is not the result of Colorado’s legalization law,” said Tvert. “It is the result of other states failing to adopt laws like Colorado’s. If every state in the U.S. regulated cannabis similarly to alcohol, as Colorado is doing, illegal marijuana cultivation and trafficking operations would become as rare as illegal moonshining and bootlegging operations.”
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