In a reminder that marijuana legalization does not legalize the production of all marijuana, Colorado police announced that they spent Wednesday morning busting a large swath of unauthorized cannabis production. Officers seized an almost unbelievable total of $240 million in marijuana plants and $13.5 million in market-ready cannabis, in addition to a Porsche, a BMV, and a Mercedes Benz from middle to upper class homes across the Denver suburbs.
A press release said that the operation yielded a total of 80,000 cannabis plants, which were confiscated from 41 houses in areas like Arvada, Thornton, Aurora, Castle Rock, Brighton, Parker, and Centennial, though raiding a total of 183 homes kept local law officers busy.
Denver7 reports that over 200 search warrants were involved — the same amount as had been filed during marijuana operations going back to legalization in 2014. That publication was unable to confirm if there had been arrests or which criminal charges have been filed in conjuncture with the investigation. The Denver Post reported that “dozens” of individuals were arrested during the operation.
The raids were apparently the product of a multi-year investigation into criminal enterprise that was shipping the finished cannabis over state lines. Wednesday’s operations were reportedly not the first time that Colorado police has busted growing operations uncovered during the operation.
“Unfortunately Colorado is no longer known for its beautiful mountains and scenery.” said District Attorney William T. McDermott in a Friday morning press conference regarding the raids. “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.”
Officials hinted at the fact that the raids would not be the end of prosecution of illegal grows in the state, which they claim is starting to affect local residents. “Colorado has become the epicenter of black market marijuana in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn at the same conference. “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.”
Given the number of high profile raids coming out of Colorado recently, these assertions seem to be correct in their diagnosis of a thriving extra-legal market based in the state. In January, DEA agents sacked 50 illegal grow houses in the Denver area. At that time, Colorado law enforcement had totaled seizures of 70,000 marijuana plants weighing in at over 10,000 pounds since the state legalized recreational cannabis. Authorities suggested that the groups implicated in the raids were involved in other illegal activities, such as trafficking of other substances and illegal gun sales.
In December, a local PBS affiliate found that serious marijuana felony charges have increased in Colorado since it legalized recreational cannabis. Charges including the cultivation of 30 or more plants, possession with intent to distribute and/or conspiracy involving more than 50 pounds had more than quadrupled since the first year that recreational marijuana was regulated in 2014.
A 2017 study done by Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic Area identified Florida, Illinois, and Texas as the three states that receive the most amounts of illegal weed from Colorado growers.