Marijuana grow bust in Boulder County: 3,000 plants worth estimated $500,000 seized

Breaking news: Boulder is recognized the world over as a marijuana-friendly town. But apparently the weed smoked by thousands of attendees at the annual 4/20 orgasm of cannabis consumption at CU is largely grown elsewhere.

As evidence, note that this week's bust of an illegal grow operation near Raymond, which netted 3,000 plants worth half-a-million bucks, is the largest of its kind in Boulder County to date.

Commander Rick Brough, spokesman for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, acknowledges that "this is unusual for Boulder County, although we've been seeing some of it along the Front Range in the last year or two, in Douglas and Jefferson counties."

Examples: In August 2009, the West Metro Drug Task Force found a grow of 5,100 plants worth an estimated $2.5 million on Sugarloaf Mountain in Pike National Forest. (To see a slideshow of images provided by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, click here.) A month later, an additional 4,000 plants were found in another location in Pike National Forest, shortly before the discovery of a $500,000 marijuana haul at Ralston Creek State Wildlife Area.

Brough says the Boulder County grow was notably sophisticated. "I don't want to go into a lot of detail about it, but they did have an irrigation system, and it was very well-organized for being in such an isolated area, where you basically have to carry in all the equipment. They definitely put some effort into it."

One of these individuals apparently entered the area while officers from the BCSO and other departments were present, but he managed to escape into the rugged land nearby; he remains at large.

Today, a search of the area by officers on the ground and in a helicopter will broaden, with the goal of finding out if there are other grows of this type in the vicinity. Regarding the 3,000 plants already found, Brough doubts they were intended to serve as product for Boulder's burgeoning medical-marijuana industry.

"It's speculation on my part, but with the size of this grow -- and we're talking about a street value of half a million dollars -- these people probably weren't trying to be caregivers," he predicts. "They were coming in to make a profit."

Page down to read the BCSO release on the bust:

Marijuana grow -- Update

[On] August 30, 2010, approximately 30 SWAT team members from the Boulder County Sheriff's Office and the Longmont Police Department searched an isolated area southeast of Raymond, Colorado for a man seen fleeing from a large marijuana grow operation. The search resulted in the discovery of a marijuana grow consisting of approximately 3,000 plants. The man seen fleeing was not located.

The marijuana grow was a well-organized operation with an elaborate irrigation system. The plants ranged in height from 3 ½ to 5 ½ feet tall and had an estimated street value of $500,000.

During the search of the immediate area, camping equipment was found that indicated that there were more people involved in the operation than just the one seen fleeing. There wasn't anything found that indicated that the people were armed with weapons.

Officers will be returning today to collect the plants and search for any additional marijuana grows. They will be using a helicopter to assist in searching the area.

The marijuana grow operation was located on land belonging to U.S. Forest Service, Boulder County Open Space, and a private land owner. The marijuana grow operation covered an area of approximately one acre.

The Sheriff's Office is investigating these incidents and would request anyone with any information contact the Boulder County Drug Task Force at (303) 441-1690 or they may contact Northern Colorado Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or through www.nococrimestoppers.comwhere they can send an anonymous e-mail or text message. Tips may be eligible for a cash reward.

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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