Drug dealers taking advantage of medical marijuana industry, says Commander Jerry Peters

Yesterday, members of the Commerce City Police Department stumbled on a home invasion at the 10779 Akron Street residence of Adrienne Bayless.

But while their arrival caused the four invaders to flee (they were later arrested), North Metro Drug Task Force Commander Jerry Peters says it also led to the discovery of a marijuana grow, dried and prepackaged weed, over a kilo of cocaine and a small stash of what appears to be heroin.

According to Peters, this scenario is becoming more common: "There's an increase in drug dealers trying to legitimize their trade by selling to dispensaries, and they're hiding behind that. They'll say, 'I work for a dispensary. That's why I'm growing marijuana.' But they also have other drugs there as well."

Here's Peters's account of what went down yesterday.

"The Commerce City police went over there on a suspicious vehicle call, and during the investigation, they talked to the lady and found marijuana inside the house -- eighteen plants. So they called us, and we continued the investigation.

"It looks so far that her and potentially somebody else were growing marijuana for use at dispensaries. We found prepackaged marijuana and dried marijuana in jars with different names on them. And we also found about a kilo and a half of cocaine -- that's almost three or four pounds worth of cocaine -- as well as what we believe to be heroin.

"We didn't find any weapons, but there are significant indicators that they're dealing drugs. I'm not sure if they've been dealing from the house; in fact, I doubt it was from the house. But the amount of cocaine, marijuana and heroin are indications of drug distribution, which is why they were broken into, and why she was held captive for a short period of time. They were trying to steal money and the drugs."

Peters has been particularly concerned about the proximity of children to marijuana operations. Check out this March blog about two children injured in such scenarios: an eleven-year old who shot himself in the foot while guarding his parents' grow and a ten-month old that had to be hospitalized after ingesting marijuana edibles. Children were part of yesterday's incident as well.

"There were five kids living inside the house," he points out. "Three of them were at school about a block away that had to go on lockdown after the home invasion, but she had two of them with her. One of them was just short of being a two-year-old toddler that one of the suspects had actually taken out of the car seat after they secured the mom; as the mom and her other daughter walked inside the house, the suspect got the toddler.

"Some people would argue this kind of thing is a victimless crime, but my answer is, absolutely not. The whole neighborhood went on lockdown and five kids were affected by their parents dealing drugs. And yet people like these seem to feel there's a sense of normalcy here, because they're dealing with dispensaries."

No caregiver licenses were found at the scene, Peters says. "It simply looks as if they were growing marijuana and found a ready-made market with the dispensaries, and started distributing their marijuana to them. These are poly-drug dealers, because there are different drugs, but they found a market niche for their marijuana. It's easier to sell to dispensaries than to have people knocking on your door and doing things that way."

Back in February, Peters said the North Metro Task Force had 23 active marijuana investigations. Since then, many of those have been "taken down," in his words, but more have popped up in their place.

"We have about thirty active investigations right now," by his count. "These tips are coming from concerned neighbors and people in business parks talking about foul smells leading to odor investigations. Or we have things like what occurred yesterday -- patrol officers responding to unrelated crimes and discovering illegal marijuana grows or other types of drug-related crimes."

Would closer regulation of the medical marijuana market, in which dispensaries either had to grow the vast majority of their own product or purchase cannabis from licensed growers, help weed out the likes of Bayless? Peters doubts it.

"What will happen is exactly what happened yesterday," he maintains. "You'll have freelance growers who'll sell at a lower price to dispensaries -- and dispensaries, much like any other business in the marketplace, will buy the cheapest stuff they can get.

"Here's the argument with dispensaries: They have to grow it someplace, so regulate the growers and where the dispensaries can buy from. But that's a short-term solution. They'll chip away at that and want to buy from anywhere they can. Plus, you can never determine the yield of a plant. Say you're growing 1,000 plants for me, and they're supposedly yielding two ounces a plant. Well, the reality is, you could be getting five ounces a plant, or a pound a plant -- and we'll never know. It will be underreported, and they'll start selling it out the back door.

"You can't control inventory with this type of industry, and that's why you'll always have a corrupt industry. Regulation sounds good on paper, but in reality, you'll always have crime associated with it.

"This is exactly the problem with the increased accessibility to marijuana. People are trying to find other ways to make a dollar, and these freelance grows are selling it to dispensaries under the table. People think it's such an up-and-up business, and it's not. It's fraught with problems because there's a lot of money involved.

"If you could take the capitalism out of this and throw compassion back in, where you focus on people who truly need marijuana because they have a debilitating disease, all of these problems go away -- but not if you're creating a new marketplace, a new industry. It sounds good to say you can regulate it, but in practice, it's impossible."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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