Marijuana grow raids in Colorado Springs: Cops say timing wasn't political statement

MMJ advocates have greeted the passage of HB 1284, a bill to regulate the medical marijuana industry, with cheers (from CMMR's Matt Brown), boos (courtesy of Cannabis Therapy Institute's Laura Kriho) or a blend of both (Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente sees it as a mixed bag).

As for law enforcement reps, many of them hate the legislation -- and that's led to concern among industry types that the cops will do everything they can to harass them no matter what the legislature says.

Against this backdrop, the Colorado Springs Police Department raided seven area marijuana grows late last week -- and according to one prominent MMJ backer, members of the community view the timing as suspicious.

Not so, says CSPD spokesman Sergeant Steve Noblitt: "That's not the way we do business. We don't make political statements. We just investigate crime and take action when crime is found."

The locations of the targeted grows hasn't been made public to date, and their facility's owners are reluctant to speak. Jessica Hogan, director of communication for the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, notes that one person who had previously given permission to forward contact info to the media backed out before granting a single interview.

The growers are talking to Hogan, though -- and they've got plenty to say.

"Last Thursday and Friday, I started getting phone calls that grow operations were being investigated or raided by the Colorado Springs Police Department," she says. "We're not sure why. Everyone I've spoken with so far has told me their patient and plant count were fine and they're running a totally legal grow operation.

"So they're confused why the police department had to bust in, and why they didn't just call them," she continues. "Everyone's willing to cooperate with the police department. They're like, 'Give us a call and we'll gladly let you in, gladly show you documentation, gladly show you that we're within the legal guidelines, and we can go from there.'"

Instead, Hogan says, "some people have told me that crowbars were used to get into their facilities. The landlord would call and tell them, 'Somebody has been in there,' and they'd go to their property and the door wouldn't be locked, and there'd be thousands of dollars of medicine left for anyone to grab. Property's been damaged, patient documents are gone and product has been taken from the facilities."

The CSPD's Noblitt doesn't respond specifically to these claims. Instead, he speaks about the situation in general terms.

"What was first reported was that our metro vice and narcotics unit had raised dispensaries, but that wasn't the case," he says. "What happened was, this was the culmination of a very long investigation that revealed seven different locations where there was probable cause to believe they were illegal marijuana grows.

"It's still illegal to grow marijuana in Colorado unless you have a specific medical marijuana certificate that authorizes you to do so, and we had reason to believe these were illegal grows. So we applied for and obtained search warrants signed by a judged, served those search warrants, gathered evidence and submitted it to the district attorney's office for review. The DA's office will guide us from there."

At this point, Noblitt doesn't have an inventory of everything that was taken from each site. But he says, "where the search warrants were served, they're going to need evidence to show whether or not the grows are lawful. So if you have someone who has a grow and you have the paperwork, the prescriptions, the documentation to show they're growing this for themselves or someone else who has the paperwork, they'll need that paperwork to show they can have x-number of plants. And if they have more than the number they're allowed to grow, that would make it illegal. So there could be all kinds of evidence that could go into the investigation, and that would be collected, packaged up and sent to the DA's office for review."

This situation concerns Hogan. After all, the district attorney in question -- Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May -- hasn't been shy about sharing his antipathy for HB 1284. "He spoke at the senate hearing in Denver, and said he believes dispensaries and grow operations are illegal, and he will continue to prosecute them," she says.

For that reason, "people in the Springs are wondering what to do," she goes on. "They're like, 'I thought we just passed a law and everything is fine.' Most of them have daily, corporate-America jobs. They do their grow operations on the side and they want to be completely legal. So everyone's confused."

And they're likely to stay that way for quite some time to come. Noblitt says there's no timetable on when the DA's office will reach any conclusions. Until then, the grow owners remain in limbo.

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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