For years, medical marijuana opponents have argued that MMJ is being diverted for illicit recreational purposes, with industry advocates countering that there's no proof of such claims.
There is now, says Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. A new report entitled "Colorado's 'Medical' Marijuana" lists more than seventy such incidents. See it below.
"It's a very small study, a small sampling," Gorman says. "But I think it's the tip of the iceberg as to what exists out there. Indications are that it's being diverted from patients, caregivers and dispensaries."
The introduction to the report, which consistently puts the word "medical" in quotes, notes that "in a Rocky Mountain HIDTA (RMHIDTA) 2012 law enforcement-sensitive threat assessment, the original draft inferred that 'medical' marijuana was being diverted and that Colorado was becoming a source state for marijuana." However, "these statements were removed because they were not supported by actual data."
To address this issue, Gorman recommended to the RMHIDTA executive board that the organization "conduct a cursory assessment to determine whether there was any evidence that Colorado 'medical' marijuana was being diverted," the introduction continues.
As such, Gorman says, "we sent e-mails to different agencies asking, 'Do you have any information that would indicate Colorado's medical marijuana is being diverted?' And this is what we got" from nineteen law-enforcement organizations over the course of three weeks.
The data is far from complete, Gorman concedes. "We didn't sample the whole United States, and there's no requirement for any agency to say, 'This is really medical marijuana. This ties back to Colorado's medical marijuana.'"
Nonetheless, the RMHIDTA heard from plenty of peers from across the country, as illustrated by this map depicting the locations where Colorado medical marijuana is said to have turned up as part of investigations:
Which incidents jumped out for Gorman?
"There was one about buying 200 pounds of marijuana from a dispensary," he says, referencing a West Metro Drug Task Force investigation in which an undercover officer claiming to be from Pennsylvania said he wanted to sell the pot out of state. "We have one where a guy traded a stolen rifle for medical marijuana at a dispensary" in Colorado Springs circa 2010, "and hundreds of pounds being shipped back east" -- specifically to Virginia, according to the North Metro Drug Task Force.
A photo from the RMHIDTA website.
Not all of the incidents tipped the scales at this level, Gorman concedes. "There's a whole series of reports about people getting medical marijuana off of Craigslist," including one Denver Police Department sting in which the seller is said to have admitted, "I was just getting greedy."
In Gorman's mind, such motives explain why diversion takes place despite regulations intended to prevent that from happening.
"There's no way to make regulations so tight that it stops diversion unless the State of Colorado ran the dispensaries," he feels. "That's because you have a profit motive. And when you have a profit motive, that means you have to sell as much product as you can sell, and get as many customers as you can get. If you don't do that, you're going to go out of business.
"There are probably some very legitimate people who believe in what they're doing," he maintains. "But this is a good indication of what we really have out there."
Moreover, Gorman thinks the situation would grow infinitely worse should Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, be approved by Colorado voters in November.
"There would be much more of a supply, and you wouldn't have to allegedly have medical cards to buy," he says. "So you could have tourists come in from all over the country to buy their marijuana here -- and even if there are rules about possession of an ounce or less, you could go to different retail stores. And there's no limitation on how much you can grow. So I believe Colorado would become a real mecca for marijuana sales and trafficking for the rest of the country. We're already seeing that."
He points to a series of quotes from law enforcement officials across the country that conclude the report. For instance, Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department Assistant Chief Christopher Preuss writes:
Currently, you hardly see any Canadian marijuana in Richmond, Virginia, if at all. Everything I am coming across is from either from Colorado or California. The money is out there and the "medical marijuana" industry makes it profitable for the growers in CO and CA to ship to states where the drug is illegal and in demand. It was being shipped via car/truck, UPS, USPS, FedEx and shipping containers to name a few.
"California has always been considered the source state," Gorman allows. "But we're starting to see that Colorado is either rivaling California or in some cases passing it as a source state."
Gorman stresses the preliminary nature of the new study. "We will eventually do a more complete report and try to get more examples," he says. But even if "Colorado 'Medical' Marijuana," subtitled "Are Regulations Working or is 'Medical' Marijuana Being Diverted?," merely scrapes the surface of the problem, as he contends, he argues that the document contains more than enough data to muzzle the pro-medical marijuana crowd regarding diversion.
"How can you make a blanket statement that this is not happening?" he asks. "There's no evidence to support that it's not happening, and now we have evidence that it absolutely is happening."
Here's the report.
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Colorado Democratic Party convention supports Amendment 64."