Last year, in a post titled "Is Colorado Pot So Good It's Making Mexican Cartels Want to Take Over?," Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA), shared some worries.
"From what we're hearing, Colorado marijuana is a lot more desirable than the Mexican marijuana," he told us. "So for the cartels to compete, they have to upgrade their marijuana, get out of the business or try to get involved in the business in Colorado."
These comments spring to mind in the wake of two separate marijuana busts on federal land — actions that resulted in the arrest of nine Mexican nationals and one from Honduras.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which worked on the cases in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management and state law-enforcement agencies, the first grow was discovered on September 15 near the Dolores River corridor that runs between Gateway and Naturita, south of Grand Junction on Colorado's Western Slope.
Rangers are said to have found more than 1,200 mature marijuana plants, some topping out at over six feet in height, plus 211 kilograms of dried cannabis (approximately 465 pounds' worth) and a rifle. Four Mexican nationals on the scene were arrested, and the plants were destroyed over the course of two and a half days.
Grow number two wasn't far away. It was located on September 30, with deputies from sheriff's offices in Mesa and Montrose counties busting five additional Mexican nationals and a Honduran. This time, the plants had already been harvested, but 69.6 kilograms of cannabis (over 153 pounds) remained on site.
U.S. Attorney John Walsh's statement about the arrests stresses that "illicit marijuana grows on public lands violate the drug laws and harm the environment. This fall, Colorado has seen an explosion in the number and size of illicit marijuana grows on public land, which federal and state authorities are aggressively investigating and prosecuting."
Walsh sounded the same environmental themes just over a month ago, after a big pot grow in Routt National Forest was eradicated — and two Mexican nationals were taken into custody in that case, too.
Do these incidents match the scenario Gorman painted for us last year? Not exactly. Instead, he focused on the possibility of cartels taking over Colorado businesses by force.
"If you're a cartel member and you see ways to make money in a trade you're used to, it's a perfect storm," Gorman said. "Say you're a retail cultivator or a store owner. Someone from a cartel comes in and shows you a picture of your kids going to school — and they tell you, 'I want 40 percent of your profits or you're not going to see your kids anymore.'
Many of those who commented on the post saw Gorman's claims as little more than scare tactics of the sort frequently voiced by anti-marijuana organizations such as the RMHIDTA, which makes no secret of its antipathy for laws that offer greater access to cannabis. But if we have yet to hear about cartels using threats against family members to get a piece of any dispensaries, the latest busts suggest that traffickers from south of the border do indeed see Colorado as fertile territory.
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"So much of drug trafficking in Colorado is being done by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations," Gorman argued last year. "It's not like they're unfamiliar with this territory. Put all this together and you can see there's a real reason for concern — and we don't need that in our state."
Of course, one way to alleviate such problems in the future would be for Mexico and other U.S. states between here and there to reform their marijuana laws as Colorado has already done. But we're guessing that's not a prospective solution Gorman would endorse.