DEA raids marijuana grow within a block of police station and school

Yesterday, Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided a marijuana grow located in a warehouse at 1441 West 46th Avenue.

The site's unusual for a cultivation operation for a couple of reasons. It's adjacent to the Denver Police Department District 1 station and about a block away from Remington Elementary School.

Beyond confirming the existence of a marijuana-related investigation involving that location, DEA spokesman Mike Turner declines to offer additional details, because the inquiry is ongoing. But Jesse La Plante, a photographer (visit his website here) whose studio is next door, was on hand for the entire operation, and he provides plenty of inside details.

In February, the DEA stirred controversy when it raided Full Spectrum Laboratories in Denver -- an action apparently triggered by the lab applying for a license. Within days, a lab in Colorado Springs was hit by the DEA, too, for pretty much the same reason.

As for the aforementioned grow operation, it moved into the 1441 West 46th avenue space a month or two ago, La Plante says. "I toured the facility the day before this happened, because they were going to hire me to photograph some of their products for their website," he says.

The website's not up yet, in part because La Plante thinks the operation hadn't been named yet. But he saw nothing to suggest that it was intended to be an illicit or underground operation.

"The owner, whose name was Jesse, said their dispensary license was pending and that they'd be up and running, fully legit, in about a week or two... The owner said he already had eighty patients lined up and they had paperwork in to sell to three different dispensaries. And they were also trying to get licensed to be their own dispensary as well. They seemed like they knew what they were doing to me.

"I would say the warehouse was about 25 feet wide by 100 feet long, and they had two of them that were back to back and about the same size -- but I only went into one of them, which had about 200 plants inside. It had a front room with plants in early stage of vegetation that were under a light 24 hours a day; I guess that's protocol. And in another room, there were more mature plants that had already grown buds and were ready for picking. They were under lights twelve hours a day to mimic the rotation of the earth. They had another room where they packaged everything -- and there was also a room with a foosball table in it."

La Plante didn't take his camera with him during the tour -- but he'd eventually get shots of a few plants, albeit from a distance, and under circumstances he wouldn't have guessed.

"At around 11:30 yesterday morning, I walked out my door to go to lunch, and there was a SWAT team in full gear, with gas masks and machine guns," he recalls. "They yelled at me to go back inside, and I did. But I could hear what they were doing, like when they kicked down the door.

"There were about three workers in there. The owner wasn't there when it happened. I didn't see if they took them away, put them in cars or what. But they spent probably the next two hours, maybe more, disassembling everything -- taking apart the lights, carrying all the plants out of planters, putting them in boxes, loading them up in their vehicles."

At a certain point, La Plante was allowed back outside, but with limitations: "At the end of the unit, there's this cargo door they were bringing everything out of in boxes, and they had that section blocked off." But he was able to go around the block and shoot photos through a fence as DEA personnel dismantled and packed. And he also got into conversations with some of the police officers also on the scene.

"I heard them talking about how they felt kind of bad for taking down a semi-legitimate businessman," La Plante recalls. "They admitted that the guy wasn't a drug dealer. But they said if he tried it again, they'd come at him harder, because repeat offenders aren't looked at in a good light. They were pretty cavalier about it, cracking jokes about making bonfires and things like that."

Those may not have been jokes...

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts