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Legal pot is sowing seeds of illegal growing operations in Colorado

Investigators load marijuana plants onto a Colorado National Guard truck outside a suspected illegal grow operation in north Denver. Associated Press/Photo by P. Solomon Banda

Legal pot is sowing seeds of illegal growing operations in Colorado

Four years after Colorado legalized the use and sale of marijuana, at least one critic is saying, we told you so.

In Colorado, anyone over the age of 21 can grow up to six marijuana plants in an “enclosed, locked space.” But pot growers with bigger ambitions beyond individual recreational and medicinal use are flocking to the state. Not all of them abide by the law.

What started as illegal growers working seasonally in secret inside abandoned warehouses and on federal land has turned into a phenomenon called “grow houses.” Growers rent or buy homes where they cultivate anywhere from hundreds to thousands of marijuana plants in year-round operations. Many grow houses are found in Pueblo County and Colorado Springs, but the Denver Post reported the houses are popping up throughout the state.

In April, local law enforcement in Pueblo County, just south of Colorado Springs, raided eight homes and discovered hundreds of plants—far beyond the legal limit. The residents came from out of state, according to the Denver Post. Some had international ties.

“Their plan is to send it out of state,” Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor told the Denver Post. “That’s well-documented.”

Transporting marijuana out of Colorado is against the law. At least six suspects arrested in these raids are Cuban nationals, and investigators believe they could be connected to larger Cuban cartels, Taylor told the Weekly Standard.

With illicit growing operations on the rise, Colorado law enforcement officials are cracking down. The Pueblo raids are among more than 30 such raids across the state in the last few months. One raid came after neighbors complained about marijuana stink, and maybe Colorado residents need a new slogan: If you smell it, tell it.

Taylor predicted this surge in criminal activity back in August 2012, three months before the vote for legalization. He participated in a large drug bust then, with a joint task force seizing more than 13,000 plants worth more than $40 million. Taylor told local media at the time such illegal activity would become more common if voters opted to legalize marijuana use.

Recent raids suggest he was right.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Margaret Tazioli Margaret is a WORLD intern.


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D Oliver

Our failed "war on drugs" seems to be a never-ending game of cat-and-mouse with many negative consequences.  Can a corrupt government effectively enforce vice laws?