"Colorado Springs Mayor: Day of Reckoning Coming for City's Illegal Marijuana Growers," published by the Colorado Springs Gazette on May 28, represents the coming together of an anti-marijuana newspaper and an anti-marijuana politician:Mayor John Suthers.
But that doesn't mean it's empty posturing. While Suthers's assertion that hundreds of illegal-grow arrests will take place over the next few months could prove to be off-base, as some of his previous comments about Colorado cannabis laws during his days as attorney general have proven to be, those skirting state laws should still be prepared for the hammer to come down — hard — in the near future.
The Gazette is hardly a booster of legal marijuana sales. In March 2015, the paper published "Clearing the Haze," a four-part series that we described as "a beautifully presented but woefully one-sided anti-weed screed typified by a headline on a March 24 article: 'Teen: Colorado voters were duped into legalizing recreational marijuana.'"
Moreover, the series was co-authored by Christine Tatum, a pot-loathing zealot married to Dr. Christian Thurstone, one of the area's most prominent physicians against greater access to cannabis by young people, as well as a source in the article — yet the Gazette neglected to acknowledge their connection.
The new piece doesn't defy standard journalistic practices quite so boldly, but it does have some curious elements. For instance, the phrase "Judgment day is coming" is attributed to Suthers sans quotation marks, suggesting that he didn't actual use either this phrase or the "day of reckoning" remark that appears in the headline.
He did, however, offer plenty of direct quotes about future raids like those that have been taking place in Pueblo this year; last month, we noted that there had been 22 arrests and 4,600 marijuana plants seized in the community during a matter of weeks.
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"If you look at who is being busted in Pueblo and who will be busted in Colorado Springs over the summer, you can tell: These are organized crime," Suthers told the Gazette. "A lot of them are Cubans coming up from Central America, and they're buying or leasing homes, making huge amounts of money (and) trashing the homes.
"There's no question, in Colorado Springs we have large illegal grow operations in several hundred homes," Suthers added. This assertion was supplemented in the article by a reference to "186 large-scale marijuana grows operating in Colorado Springs and trafficking products to the Midwest and East Coast" — info provided to the Springs city council in April by two unnamed Denver-area drug enforcement agents.
Suthers has spent years warning about possible marijuana diversion and other ills associated with cannabis legalization. In early 2010, when only medical marijuana was legal in Colorado (via a 2000 measure known as Amendment 20), he actively lobbied the state legislature against HB 1284, the bill that blessed the creation of a dispensary system. In a letter to members of the Colorado General Assembly, he wrote:
I believe the objective of the legislature in passing medical marijuana legislation should be to implement Amendment 20 and the intent of the voters who passed it. To embrace commercial dispensaries or clinics as a means of distributing marijuana would go far beyond the intent of the voters. In my opinion, it would constitute de facto legalization. But the voters rejected legalization of the drug by a 60/40 margin in 2006. I strongly believe the voters should have a say if the state is going to go beyond the parameters of Amendment 20.
He echoed these thoughts in a March 2010 interview with Westword. "A lot of people say, 'He's just a dinosaur drug warrior,'" he acknowledged. "But I care about future generations, and somebody's got to have their eye on the ball. I've listened to all the debates in the legislature about school dropout rates and so forth, with people trying to understand why it's happening. But has anybody stopped to think the problem is too many kids are coming to school high? That's why we have the dropout rates we do, along with poor parenting — and this is only going to exacerbate the problem.
"Ten years from now, when members of the legislature look at these rates and see that there hasn't been an improvement — that they've actually gotten worse — they'll say, 'We sure made a mistake ten years ago.' That's why somebody ought to point out now that these things have consequences. And I'm perfectly willing to do that."
After the November 2012 passage of Amendment 64, which legalized limited recreational marijuana sales, Suthers publicly stated that he would defend the measure in court. But his statement on the subject also maintained that A64 proponents improperly claimed that approval of the act would result in a tax windfall for school construction. He argued that because its authors "did not comply with required language under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights...no such tax will be imposed," making the possible generation of $40 million in revenue "speculative."
If so, that speculation has resulted in even more revenue than the amendment's backers predicted for schools and other entities.
That said, there's a big difference between grows that follow state law and the ones that violate it — and even many of those who support progressive cannabis policies support enforcement against illegal cultivation and trafficking beyond state lines.
With that in mind, a crackdown on illegal grows could garner widespread support, depending on where the lines are drawn. But we won't know for a while if "several hundred" homes in Colorado Springs actually qualify as "large illegal grow operations."
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Continue to see KKTV's report on Suthers's statements, complete with an excerpt from a previous piece in which a landlord says illegal marijuana growers destroyed his property.