This week's marijuana-cultivation arrest of Broomfield's Johnny Jones wasn't an isolated incident. According to Commander Jerry Peters of the North Metro Task Force, which assisted on the Jones bust, illegal marijuana seizures are up 380 percent from 2009 -- and he believes surplus medical marijuana is helping to fuel a growing pot black market.
These revelations were prompted by a conversation about an I-News Network investigation arguing that "thousands of pounds of surplus marijuana" grown as MMJ is finding its way into the illegal marketplace due to a loophole in state law.
Does the measure need to be tightened? Peters, who's long maintained that drug dealers are taking advantage of the medical marijuana industry, isn't sure that'd help.
"I don't necessarily like the law the way it is anyway," he concedes. "I think this effect will be there no matter what happens."
In his view, "the production of each plant, and how to verify that when you're trying to regulate this as a business, is problematic. You don't necessarily have an opportunity at the point of cultivation for someone to do an inspection to find out how much a plant is yielding. It's kind of difficult to say this plant will yield two ounces, or three ounces, or a pound. And each yield is different depending on the grow cycle as well.
"Sometimes you'll be short, and sometimes you'll be over. And each of these are issues that causes the black market to exist even more than it has been before. Because anytime you try to regulate an illegal business, you're going to drive other sources. It's a Whac-A-Mole. You push it down in one place and it pushes up in another -- and extra yields will be pushed out the back door."
Such factors contribute to "a 380 percent increase in seized marijuana, illegal marijuana, from last year," Peters believes. But he doesn't think surplus MMJ accounts for all of the illicit product.
"It could be an overage out the back door from a legal source or Mexican marijuana coming up across the border," he says. "But I honestly believe dispensaries in our state are going to drive up the amount of Mexican marijuana we see. They [the drug cartels] see a market already built up, so you're going to see a lot more marijuana coming in. We're seeing it by the pound -- ten pounds here, twenty pounds there, coming in from California, Arizona, Mexico."
At the same time, Peters points out that the number of arrests focused on allegedly illegal local grows like Jones's that the Task Force has shut down has actually fallen in recent months -- at little, anyway.
"We're not doing as many of them as we once did," he allows. "It's still a huge part of our day-to-day investigations, but it's not everything we're doing."
Could the Task Force's aggressive stance be one reason for this dip?
"I hope so," he says. "I hope people realize that if you break the law, you're going to get caught -- and when you get caught, you're going to be prosecuted, so stop breaking the law. That's the message we want to get across in Adams County."
At the same time, though, "if you're legitimate, you're legitimate, and we respect that," he goes on. "That's the way we look at it, and the way the DA's office looks at it. If you're a legitimate cardholder or caregiver or business owner and you're operating within the confines of the law, that's perfect for us. That's exactly what we want to see."
And if you're not? Then that 380 percent increase might only be the beginning.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.