DPD Reassigns Marijuana Crime Unit to New Fentanyl Investigation Team

Fentanyl tablets: public enemy #1.
Fentanyl tablets: public enemy #1.
The Denver Police Department has launched a new fentanyl investigation unit after reassigning resources from illegal marijuana cultivation and crime enforcement.

According to the Office of the Medical Examiner, there were over 215 overdose deaths connected to fentanyl in Denver last year, while DPD data shows that local fentanyl seizures increased from 2,308 grams in 2019 to 59,697 grams in 2022.

As fentanyl crime and deaths increase in Denver, complaints regarding illegal marijuana activity have dropped by nearly 67 percent, according to the DPD. So the department's Marijuana Unit of the Vice and Narcotics Section has been transformed into the Fentanyl Investigations Team.

According to a February 2 announcement from the DPD, one sergeant and five detectives are now dedicated to "disrupting distribution networks, reducing the supply of fentanyl in our community, and assisting with suspected fentanyl overdose death investigations." Previously, officers assigned to general Vice and Narcotics cases handled fentanyl crimes.

The Marijuana Unit had been created almost a decade ago to focus on illegal large-scale operations involving marijuana growing and distribution, which increased shortly after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. But with more than half of the population of the United States now living in states with recreational marijuana, prices of legal pot are hitting record lows....and so are marijuana-related crimes, particularly illegal grows.

According to the City of Denver's most recent annual marijuana crime and legalization report, total marijuana offenses accounted for less than 1 percent of overall reported offenses in Denver in 2021, with seventeen reported cultivation crimes and forty reported distribution crimes.

“As a law enforcement agency, we must adapt as trends change,” DPD Chief Ron Thomas says in the announcement. “By refocusing this team of investigators, we are increasing our capacity to address the fentanyl epidemic, hold dealers accountable and remove more fentanyl from our streets with the ultimate goal of saving lives.”

Commonly added to street drugs such as cocaine, heroin and painkillers, fentanyl is considered to be lethal after 2 milligrams, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Although marijuana intoxication can lead to harmful and even fatal actions, and long-term use can negatively impact health, there's never been a documented fatal overdose of marijuana.

Colorado's fentanyl and drug overdose crisis isn't confined to Denver, with rural and urban counties both facing rising drug overdose rates. The Arapahoe County Coroner's office has also reported a sharp increase of fentanyl overdose deaths, from 29 in 2019 to 104 in 2021.

Denver police will continue working with the Front Range Task Force, a multi-jurisdiction law enforcement unit, as well as state and federal partners to combat fentanyl distribution, according to the announcement.
Moving forward, marijuana crime tips will be handled by district-level narcotics teams.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell

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