DENVER — U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer and his office will target illegal grows in million-dollar homes, according to The Denver Post.
Troyer said that his office has partnered with the DEA and other state law enforcement agencies and will move from targeting illegal marijuana operations to targeting legal marijuana dispensaries selling black-market marijuana. Troyer said that the new strategy will be implemented in Colorado within two weeks.
The U.S. Attorney says that drug cartels from several countries are using million-dollar homes in the area to illegally cultivate marijuana which is then sold to legal marijuana dispensaries with all the proper licensing required by state law.
Troyer says that cartels from Cuba, China, and Mexico are suspected of setting up the illegal grows. Troyer also says that many marijuana dispensaries are knowingly using their businesses as fronts for the illegal operations and plans to concentrate on targeting those businesses.
When asked whether his new strategy could end up with legal marijuana businesses being charged with federal laws even though they are compliant with state law and not affiliated with any drug cartels, Troyer said that it was a possibility.
"We could. We make decisions based on safety. Sometimes compliance with state law is relevant to that, and sometimes it's not. We do not make decisions based on labels like 'compliance with state law.' Labels are not relevant to us — people's safety is."
According to Troyer, the state laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado were badly written and have allowed the state to become a safe-haven for the illegal drug trade. At least 80,000 marijuana plants were seized from federal lands in 2017, but Troyer said that only a few thousand plants were seized and destroyed this year, noting that it was an indication that drug cartels have switched course and are finding new locations to grow marijuana.
Troyer believes that drug traffickers are buying expensive homes in Colorado to use as sites to grow marijuana illegally, then selling the marijuana to legal pot shops.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection also says that since marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2012, marijuana seizures have decreased 50 percent while heroin seizures went up.
Colorado Has 491 Pot Shops
Troyer also said that crime statistics factored into his new strategy. Drug Task Force agencies in the state reported that they have investigated at least 144 illegal marijuana operations in September that were shipping pot illegally to other states. The U.S. Marshals Service also partnered with several state law enforcement agencies between May and August to arrest 156 people over the 90-day period.
Troyer said that one plant can be worth as much as $2,400 in Colorado but worth $14,000 in other states.
The U.S. Attorney also noted industry statistics as a good reason for the new strategy targeting legal marijuana dispensaries. There are more marijuana dispensaries in the state than there are McDonald's or Starbucks. Colorado has 208 McDonald's, 392 Starbucks, and 491 pot shops.
Proponents of the legal marijuana market support the U.S. Attorney targeting illegal businesses but worry that Troyer is targeting legal dispensaries that are in compliance with state law, especially marijuana dispensaries that spent millions to do so.
Kristi Kelly is the executive director of Marijuana Industry Group and says that advocates of the cannabis industry have concerns about Troyer's new strategy. "Targeting legal dispensaries that are doing their best to follow the letter of Colorado's laws makes no sense without meeting with the owners and discussing their interpretation of the laws," she said.
Troyer announced in August that his office, the U.S. Forest Service, Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Land Management had been targeting drug traffickers growing marijuana on federal land, but their new strategy is to target urban areas throughout the state.