Authorities said Friday they raided hundreds of black market marijuana operations in Colorado that flouted the state’s cannabis law by growing tens of thousands of plants in Denver-area homes and selling the drugs out of state.
Investigators seized more than 80,000 plants and 4,500 pounds (2,040 kilograms) of harvested marijuana, state and federal prosecutors said at a news conference. Officers raided 247 homes and eight businesses and arrested 42 people in Denver and seven nearby counties. State law allows up to 12 marijuana plants per residence for personal use, but some of the homes had more than 1,000 and many had hundreds, said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.
A total of 42 people were arrested in three days after during one of the largest black-market marijuana enforcement actions in Colorado’s history, according to the leaders of the joint investigation.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office made the announcement Friday morning.
The investigation began in 2016, when North Metro Task Force investigators began investigating a network of marijuana cultivators who were involved in the distribution of large amounts of marijuana. The grows were found in the basements of newer homes in “fairly upscale neighborhoods,” according to Department of Justice.
Law enforcement conducted multiple searches this week and started to make arrests on Wednesday. As of Friday morning, of those arrested, 26 were state defendants and 16 were federal defendants, according to the Department of Justice.
The federal defendants who were charged with offenses involving 100 or more marijuana plants will face a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison. The maximum sentence is 40 years.
Those charged with offenses involving 1,000 or more of the marijuana plants will face a minimum sentence of 10 years and up to a maximum of life in prison.
Over the past two years, more than 250 locations, including eight businesses, were searched related to this case, including:
- 120 in Adams County
- 63 in Arapahoe County
- 22 in Weld County
- 22 in Douglas County
- 17 in Jefferson County
- 7 in Denver County
- 3 in El Paso County
- 1 in Broomfield County
The marijuana in these locations were destined for the black market, which has increased in Colorado in recent years, according to the Department of Justice.
“Colorado has become the epicenter of black-market marijuana in the United States,” said United States Attorney Jason 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.”
This case was investigated by the North Metro Task Force, the DEA, the 18th Judicial District Attorney and the 17th Judicial District Attorney. They had support from the following agencies:
- U.S. Marshals Service
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Homeland Security Investigations
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- Internal Revenue Service
- West Metro Drug Task Force
- Front Range Task Force
- Thornton Police Department
- Westminster Police Department
- Adams County Sheriff
- Broomfield Police Department
- Commerce City Police Department
- Northglenn Police Department
- Brighton Police Department
- Federal Heights Police Department
- Aurora Police Department
- Jefferson County Sheriff
- Arapahoe County Sheriff
- Arvada Police Department
- Wheat Ridge Police Department
- Golden Police Department
- Lakewood Police Department
- Denver Police Department
- Weld County Sheriff
- Firestone Police Department
- Frederick Police Department
- Parker Police Department
- Castle Rock Police Department
- Colorado Bureau of Investigation
- Douglas County Sheriff
- Mountain View Police Department
- Englewood Police Department,
- Colorado Attorney General’s Office
- Colorado State Patrol
- Colorado Springs Police Department
- Fort Collins Police Department,
- National Guard
- Pueblo Police Department
- El Paso County Sheriff
- Pueblo County Sheriff
- Teller County Sheriff
- Longmont Police Department
- High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area