DENVER — Forty-two people were arrested this week in one of the largest black-market marijuana enforcement actions in Colorado history.
This law enforcement action identified marijuana grows in homes across the Metro Denver area. Eight businesses were also searched. More than 80,000 marijuana plants and 4,500 pounds of finished marijuana product were seized from the locations searched.
The following are total number of criminal search warrants (255) executed in eight Colorado counties:
- 120 in Adams County,
- 63 in Arapahoe County,
- 22 in Weld County,
- 17 in Jefferson County,
- 7 in Denver County,
- 22 in Douglas County,
- 3 in El Paso County, and
- 1 in Broomfield County.
In addition to the criminal prosecutions, the following federal asset-forfeiture actions are pending:
- 41 homes,
- $2,160,776.89 in U.S. currency,
- 25 vehicles, and
- 3 jewelry items.
Of those arrested as of May 24, 26 are state defendants and 16 are federal defendants. The federal defendants are charged with offenses involving 100 or more marijuana plants and, if convicted, they face a minimum mandatory sentence of five years imprisonment and a maximum of 40 years imprisonment. The federal defendants charged with offenses involving 1,000 or more marijuana plants, if convicted, face a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum of life in prison.
Possessing marijuana is illegal under federal law. The marijuana subject to this law enforcement action was destined for the black market, which has dramatically increased in Colorado in recent years.
In the summer of 2016, investigators from the North Metro Task Force began looking into a network of marijuana cultivators involved in distributing large amounts of marijuana. These grows were found in the basements of newer houses in fairly upscale neighborhoods. These grow areas are generally in sealed basement rooms. Large commercial charcoal air filters are often used to remove marijuana odor. Some growers vent air late at night to prevent investigators and neighbors from detecting the odor.
Five percent of the grow locations involved the bypass of the electrical meter, which greatly decreases the amount of electricity for which a marijuana grow home is billed, making it more difficult for law enforcement to identify the grow homes by reviewing electrical use data, but increasing the public safety risk.
“Colorado has become the epicenter of black market marijuana in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, District of Colorado. “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.”
This week’s arrests were announced by the following agency heads: U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, DEA Denver Division Special Agent in Charge William T. McDermott, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, and 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young.
The case was investigated by the following agencies: North Metro Task Force, DEA, 17th and 18th Judicial district attorneys. The following law enforcement agencies provided support to this investigation: U.S. Marshals Service; FBI; HSI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; IRS; West Metro Drug Task Force; Front Range Task Force; Colorado Bureau of Investigation; Colorado Attorney General’s Office; Colorado State Patrol; National Guard; Sheriffs’ offices of the following Colorado counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Pueblo, Teller and Weld; Police departments of the following Colorado cities: Arvada, Aurora, Brighton, Broomfield, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, Commerce City, Denver, Englewood, Federal Heights, Firestone, Fort Collins, Frederick, Golden, Lakewood, Longmont, Mountain View, Northglenn, Parker, Pueblo, Thornton, Westminster and Wheat Ridge; and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
Federal defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aaron Teitelbaum and Barbara Skalla; the related forfeiture matters are being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Young and Tonya Andrews, District of Colorado.
The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.